“Percy Jackson and the Olympians” star Leah Jeffries recently spoke to Essence magazine about how her casting as Annabeth Chase in the new Disney+ series initially generated backlash from some toxic fans. Racist trolls were upset that a Black actor was cast as a character described in the books as a blonde white girl. “The White Lotus” actor Alexandra Daddario played Annabeth in Fox’s “Percy Jackson” film adaptations. In her response, Jeffries had no harsh retaliation and expressed no ill will towards such toxic fans. Instead, her answer might surprise people.
“I listen to people say things and try to tear me down,” Jefferies said. “They say you are not her [Annabeth]. You can’t play her like Alexandra Daddario. But, you know what? They’re right. I’m not her, and I cannot play like her. But, I’m going to show you who I am, and how I’m going to play it. I’m not trying to be like anyone else. I want to be myself, and I want to make sure that other girls understand that too.”
“Percy Jackson” author Rick Riordan has defended Jeffries’ casting as Annabeth from the start. He published an open letter on his blog in May 2022 after the casting announcement went wide in which he wrote: “Leah brings so much energy and enthusiasm to this role, so much of Annabeth’s strength. She will be a role model for new generations of girls who will see in her the kind of hero they want to be.”
“If you have a problem with this casting, however, take it up with me,” Riordan continued at the time. “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. Now.”
Speaking to Variety for our “Percy Jackson” cover, Riordan elaborated: “Leah impressed me from the moment I met her. She has that sort of steel that makes her a leader, but there’s a bit of vulnerability to her.” He adds, “Now, again, does she look like Annabeth looks in the books? No. Was that important to me? No. If anything, it was a massive benefit to broaden the cast in terms of representation.”
Riordan eventually told Entertainment Weekly that casting Jeffries as Annabeth was true to the spirit of his franchise, as the only reason he wrote “Percy Jackson” was because his child was having difficulty in school with dyslexia and ADHD.
“It is inclusive enough that everyone can be a hero — after all, that’s why I wrote the book in the first place,” Riordan said. “My son, because of learning differences, was feeling like an outsider and this was my way of saying, ‘It’s okay. Difference is a strength. You’re gonna be just fine. And you belong in this world.’”
Jeffries herself told EW at the time, “I’m playing a character that is a different person, different hair color, different skin tones, and all that. That’s what the prototype was. Just to hear that I’m playing her different was like, ‘Wow, I’m now gonna be an inspiration to other girls.’ My experience filming the series has been phenomenal and unbelievable.”
The first two episodes of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” are now streaming on Disney+ and Hulu. New episodes drop weekly every Wednesday on Disney+.