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‘If you have a problem ... take it up with me.’ Rick Riordan blasts racist backlash over ‘Percy Jackson’ casting

Author Rick Riordan spoke at an event at the MFA in 2015.The Boston Globe

Rick Riordan’s popular book series “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” is being made into a Disney+ show, and the Boston-based author is speaking out against a racist backlash over its casting.

Leah Jeffries, a Black actress, was cast as Annabeth Chase, a half-mortal-half-goddess character who is described as white in the book. On Tuesday, Riordan posted a statement to his website, condemning individuals who have had a problem with the casting decision.

“It’s a shame such posts need to be written, but they do,” Riordan said. “If you have a problem with this casting ... take it up with me. You have no one else to blame.”

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Disney+ announced the casting of Jeffries as Chase on May 5, and while the response has been “overwhelmingly positive,” according to Riordan, the 12-year-old actress has received some disturbing messages online.

In an Instagram Live video posted earlier this week, Jeffries said her TikTok had been taken down because of “all the people that did not want me to be Annabeth, or something.”

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

Riordan said he was speaking only for himself, and not for Disney+, the production, or for Jeffries and her family.

“I was quite clear a year ago, when we announced our first open casting, that we would be following Disney’s company policy on nondiscrimination,” Riordan said, citing the company’s policy. “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 that.

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“We took a year to do this process thoroughly and find the best of the best ... Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase.”

Riordan denounced critics of the casting: “‘She doesn’t look the way I always imagined’ ... 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 as white. Friends, that is racism.”

The author then directly addressed those who may resort to “the old kneejerk reaction — ‘I am not racist!’ — let’s examine that statement too.”

Riordan went on to quote a Boston Globe article by Felice J. Freyer about implicit bias.

“To say a person doesn’t have bias is to say that a person isn’t human. It’s how we navigate the world ... based on what we’re taught and our own personal histories,” said Dr. Khama Ennis in the article.

“Racism/colorism isn’t something we have or don’t have,” Riordan continued. “I have it. You have it. We all do ... It’s either something we recognize and try to work on, or it’s something we deny.”

“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.”

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Riordan’s wife, Rebecca, who’s an executive producer of the series, also condemned criticism over casting.

“Annabeth doesn’t belong to you. She never did. Leave Leah alone,” Rebecca Riordan tweeted.

In another Instagram video posted Tuesday, Jeffries addressed the backlash herself: “To whoever is hating — stop doing that. I know you think it’s going to hurt me. It’s not. You’re just wasting time.”

“Percy Jackson & the Olympians” is a series of five fantasy novels for young readers centered on the title character who learns he is a demigod. Percy, who’ll be played by Walker Scobell, embarks on an adventure to find Zeus’s lightning bolt and return it to Olympus. Ayran Simhadri also stars as Grover Underwood.






Brittany Bowker can be reached at brittany.bowker@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @brittbowker and on Instagram @brittbowker.