Just Gonna Say It: The Anti-Black Backlash To Percy Jackson’s Cast Is Rooted In White Feminism

Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase in the Percy Jackson cast

People on the internet are being racist and awful to children once again because the casting of a TV show doesn’t fit their fanon. This time the Percy Jackson fandom is responsible for the drama, attacking the just-announced cast for the new TV adaptation because *shock horror* some of the actors aren’t white like in the books.

If you haven’t read the Percy Jackson and the Olympians books, the three main characters of the first book (AKA the series’ golden trio) are Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood. The trio’s casting was recently announced for Disney’s upcoming adaption of the series and while normal fans were excited, some were not. Specifically with the casting choice for Annabeth, the series’ ultimate bad-bitch and Percy’s bestie-slash-love-interest-no-spoilers.

The cast for Annabeth, chosen by Rick Riordan — the author of the series himself —  is Leah Sava Jeffries. She’s a 12 year-old from Detroit. And she’s Black.

The new Percy Jackson’ series cast: Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth Chase, Walker Scobell as Percy Jackson and Aryan Simhadri as Grover Underwood.

In the original Percy Jackson book series, Annabeth is white with curly blonde hair and grey eyes. Do her looks impact the plot in any way? No. Yet the backlash from casting Annabeth as a Black girl has been swift and vicious, so much so that Jeffries’ TikTok account was taken down and Riordan released a powerful statement calling out her haters.

Riordan posted an article on his blog titled “Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase” where he called out racist fans for their attacks on Jeffries.

“Some of you have apparently felt offended or exasperated when your objections are called out online as racist. ‘But I am not racist,’ you say. ‘It is not racist to want an actor who is accurate to the book’s description of the character!” he wrote.

“You either are not aware, or have dismissed, Leah’s years of hard work honing her craft, her talent, her tenacity, her focus, her screen presence. You refuse to believe her selection could have been based on merit. Without having seen her play the part, you have pre-judged her (pre + judge = prejudice) and decided she must have been hired simply to fill a quota or tick a diversity box.

“You refuse to believe me, the guy who wrote the books and created these characters, when I say that these actors are perfect for the roles because of the talent they bring and the way they used their auditions to expand, improve and electrify the lines they were given.

“You are judging her appropriateness for this role solely and exclusively on how she looks.

“Friends, that is racism.”

Everything Riordan said is, of course, true — but there’s one aspect of the hate Jeffries is facing that not enough people are talking about. Aryan Simhadri is South Asian and was cast as Grover Underwood alongside Jeffries. He is dark-skinned where Grover’s character in the books is white. He is not book-accurate casting. Yet he isn’t facing the backlash Jeffries is.

Why? Because the hate around Jeffries’ casting isn’t about accuracy at all, it’s about white femininity and how threatened white women feel when Black women encroach on what they perceive as “theirs”.

Annabeth’s key character trait is that she’s an intellectual genius. She’s shrewd, calculating, stubborn, and sometimes perceived to be cold. She’s also loyal, brave, and beautiful, but her fatal flaw is hubris. She’s a fan favourite because she’s kick-ass, witty and great representation for little girls everywhere.

Her whiteness has no bearing on the plot of Percy Jackson — except for being something white, blonde, grey-eyed girls can project on to.

By making her Black, the new Percy Jackson series gives us a broader and more inclusive representation of what strong female characters look like — but clearly certain fans are upset at losing the vision of white girl-boss feminism they’ve become attached to.

It’s important to note the support Black actor Regé-Jean Page had when Bridgerton cast him to play a character who was white in the books. Or even the overwhelmingly positive response to Rwandan actor Ncuti Gatwa as BBC’s newest Dr Who. Compare this to the hate Halle Bailey faced when she was cast as Disney’s first Black Ariel in The Little Mermaid and the hate Jeffries is facing now. There’s a particular venom reserved for Black women who are cast in traditionally white roles.

It’s clear that the double standards between Annabeth and Grover’s casting and wanting “accurate” characters is just a claim used to hide anti-Black racism. I mean, I could write a whole new article on how the lack of outrage around Grover being South Asian is probably it’s own depiction of racism, since clearly to these people an Indian nerd is fine, but a Black heroine is unrealistic?

There is no reason that Leah Jeffries can’t portray Annabeth Chase. And for those that claim hair or eye colour, why aren’t you mad that Walker Scobell doesn’t have Percy Jackson’s black hair and green eyes?

There are plenty of fans across all races and backgrounds that see Leah Jeffries’ casting for the win that it is. But for those who don’t, let’s not let them hide behind claims of accuracy to canon. Really, this whole thing is white fragility, and specifically the kind that targets Black women.