Disney+ Percy Jackson Producer Defends Casting of Black Annabeth Amid Backlash

By Savannah Sanders Posted:
Percy Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Leah Jeffries, Disney+ logo

The producer for Disney's Percy Jackson and the Olympians shut down critics over casting a Black actress to play the character of Annabeth Chase. 

Set to release in 2024, the Disney+ adaptation of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series stars Walker Scobell as Percy, Aryan Simhadri as Grover Underwood, and Leah Sava Jeffries as Annabeth Chase. 

Following cast announcements news, as well as the series' first poster reveal, the decision to cast Jeffries has been met with backlash due to her character being white in the books. 

Percy Jackson Producer Calls Out Casting Critics

Rebecca Riordan, a producer for Percy Jackson and the Olympians, posted a series of online statements concerning the casting of Leah Sava Jeffries. 

Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase in Percy Jackson and the Olympians

On Twitter, Riordan acknowledged that there are those who use author Rick Riordan's books "to justify spreading hate:"

"Rick [Riordan] and I were feeling very sad today because there are people continuing to use his books to justify spreading hate. It helps though to think about all you true blue fans that are respectful and supportive of each other and our cast. We couldn’t be making this show without you."

In addition to serving as the upcoming series executive producer, Rebecca Riordan is also author Rick Riordan's wife. 

When asked why the on-screen character has to be a person of color since she isn't in the books, she pointed out that, at the time of publishing, Annabeth's race "was a white default" as well as that skin and hair are "not meaningful to their character:"

"Does it help to know that when those characters where created in 2002 the expectation in publishing was a white default? Annabeth’s perceived whiteness in the books is a default. Skin color or hair color is not meaningful to their character."

Annabeth Chase from Percy Jackson books
Annabeth Chase

This isn't the first time the Riordans have spoken out against the race-related backlash.

In 2022, author, creator, and producer Rick Riordan came to Jeffries's defense in a statement, saying, "If you have a problem with this casting, take it up with me" as "bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong:"

"If you have a problem with this casting, however, take it up with me. You have no one else to blame. 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."

He shared that when casting Percy Jackson and the Olympians for Disney+, he was "looking for the best actors" who could inhabit "the personalities of these characters." 

He also noted that the three stars chosen for the roles are "the best," as well as "Leah Jefferies is Annabeth Chase:"

"Now.…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.…"

Lastly, the author argued that the negative response against the decision and Jeffries herself is the definition of prejudice, saying, "You refused to believe her selection could have been based on merit," believing she "must have been hired simply to fill a quota:"

"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. And by the way, these criticisms have come from across the political spectrum, right and left."

Leah Sava Jefferies, who's also known for her roles in 2018's Rel followed by 2022's Beast, isn't the first actress to portray Annabeth on-screen. 

Alexandra Daddario was the first to play the Percy Jackson heroine in 2010's Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief as a brunette, despite Annabeth Chase being blonde in the books. 

Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth Chase in Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
20th Century Fox

For the 2013 sequel, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, the actress reprised her role but with blonde hair. 

How Leah Jeffries Is Annabeth Chase

As marketing ramps up for Percy Jackson and the Olympians and more audiences become aware of the project, this brand of backlash is likely to continue. 

This is likely why Rebecca Riordan took to Twitter to echo her and Rick Riordan's defense of Jeffries and their casting decisions. 

While the need is unfortunate, the Riordans' words - like great books - not only deserve to be read over and over again but perhaps need to be. 

One of the best and most transcendent has to be Rick Riordan's definition of prejudice and how the objectors refused "to believe her selection could have been based on merit" assuming "she must have been hired simply to fill a quota or tick a diversity box." 

This kind of thinking isn't exclusive to Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and it doesn't just apply to actors.  

Given the Riordans' record thus far, it's expected that they will continue to defend their choice and the person of Leah Jeffries. 

In the meantime, fans of the book series can rest assured knowing its author believes this actress "is Annabeth Chase."

Percy Jackson and the Olympians is expected to debut on Disney+ in 2024. 

- In This Article: Percy Jackson (Season 2)
Release Date
Aryan Simhadri
Leah Jeffries
Walker Scobell
- About The Author: Savannah Sanders
Savannah Sanders joined The Direct as a writer in 2020. In addition to writing for The Direct's Star Wars, Marvel, and DC teams, Savannah specializes in the relationship between Disney's blockbuster franchises and the Disney Parks.