New Percy Jackson Series Cast Receives Inappropriate and Racist Backlash


Zoe Long, Editor/Writer

The Percy Jackson book series was released in the years 2005 – 2009, with a total of five books. Written by Rick Riordan, the series centers around twelve-year-old Percy Jackson, who is one the most dangerous quest of his life. With help of a satyr, Grover Underwood, and a daughter of Athena, Annabeth Chase, Percy has to embark on a journey to catch a thief who has stolen the original weapon of mass destruction — Zeus’ master bolt. Not long after the books were published, the movie adaptation was released in 2013, starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, and Alexandra Daddario. This movie broke the box office, making more than 200 million dollars in the worldwide box office. It was a large hit among adolescents and teens when it came out, and has earned its spot amongst the greats, such as Harry Potter and Hunger Games. Recently, Disney + announced that they are producing a series based on the books. Less than two weeks ago, they released the young actors who were cast as the main three characters, and some of the backlash that was received was very inappropriate. 

Grover Underwood, who is Black both in the books and the movie, is going to be played by Aryan Simhadri. Simhadri is American and is of Indian-American descent. Aryan has previously worked on Cheaper By the Dozen and Disney Channel’s Spin. In his post of the casting of the show, Rick Riordan shared his thoughts: “In his auditions for Grover Underwood, Aryan won our hearts. He had me laughing out loud with his delivery and timing. He has a mixture of sweetness, humor, and internal toughness that is perfect for our favorite satyr”. In the media and in Hollywood, it is rare to see a young person of Indian-American descent getting a role in a film in which they aren’t exploited. Time and time again, casting companies will cast POC people in order to make themselves look better, perpetuating the toxic idea that white people are the “saviors”. 

Annabeth Chase, who is written as white and played by a white person in the 2013 film, is going to be played by Leah Sava Jeffries. Jeffries is a young Black woman, who is known for her previous work in Empire, Rel, the upcoming film Beast, and the upcoming film Something From Tiffany’s. Rick Riordan also provided his thoughts on Jeffries in saying: “Leah is exactly the way I imagined Annabeth in the books: smart, strong and courageous, a true daughter of Athena who has zero patience for the foolishness of a certain Seaweed Brain”. This casting is going to be incredibly important and influential for young Black girls, who otherwise don’t get much representation. The casting of both Annabeth and Grover show progress, and are going to be so encouraging for younger POC generations who don’t see much of themselves on the big screen otherwise. 

Playing our leading man, we have Walker Scobell. He is known for his recent work in The Adam Project alongside actors such as Ryan Reynolds and Mark Ruffalo. He is amazing in the film. Scobell shows a full range of emotions, and has such good chemistry with everyone he acts with. I am excited to see how he plays Percy Jackson. Rick Riordan commented on Scobell as well exclaiming: “It was obvious to me and the rest of the team that Walker had the perfect mix of comedic timing, sweetness, rebelliousness, snark, and heroism to embody our hero Percy Jackson”. 

After this casting was released to the public, many people had inappropriate and, to put it frankly, racist things to say about the casting of Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth Chase. Rick Riordan responded to this commentary with a blog post calling out those who have issues with the casting. I am going to paste some of the most important, strong parts of this post below: 


“I have been clear, as the author, that I was looking for the best actors to inhabit and bring to life the personalities of these characters, and that physical appearance was secondary for me. We did that. We took a year to do this process thoroughly and find the best of the best. This trio is the best. Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase.”

“You are judging her appropriateness for this role solely and exclusively on how she looks. She is a Black girl playing someone who was described in the books as white…Friends, that is racism.”

“Whatever else you take from this post, we should be able to agree that bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong. As strong as Leah is, as much as we have discussed the potential for this kind of reaction and the intense pressure this role will bring, the negative comments she has received online are out of line. They need to stop. Now.”

“The core message of Percy Jackson has always been that difference is strength. There is power in plurality. The things that distinguish us from one another are often our marks of individual greatness. You should never judge someone by how well they fit your preconceived notions. That neurodivergent kid who has failed out of six schools, for instance, may well be the son of Poseidon. Anyone can be a hero. If you don’t get that, if you’re still upset about the casting of this marvelous trio, then it doesn’t matter how many times you have read the books. You didn’t learn anything from them.”

And he is right. To look at the casting of a show and immediately notice the race of the actors instead of their potential and their beauty, is racism. Everyone should read these books again, rewatch the movies, and educate themselves in order to realize and/or confirm that the main theme of this series is just as Riordan said: “Difference is strength.”