Why the backlash over the Percy Jackson reboot casting is unnecessary
As a long-time fan of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians book series by Rick Riordan, there could be no better news than Disney+ announcing that they will be rebooting the fan-favourite series with a new, talented cast. As expected, everyone was hyped about the reboot and fans started coming out of the woodwork with their years of Greek mythology knowledge. But then, all hell broke loose in the fandom when Riordan announced that 12-year-old Leah Sava Jeffries would be joining the cast as the character of Annabeth Chase, the daughter of Goddess Athena.
Unfortunately, the news was met with enraged fans complaining about Annabeth being played by a black actor when she was described as white in the books. Since the Percy Jackson universe is already full of such diverse characters, and has multiple people of colour in it, why was it necessary to cast a black actor as Annabeth, and not as an actual POC character? Some shouted accusations of Leah being used as a token Black character to fill up some sort of diversity quota, while others like author Rick Riordan defended her, saying that she was cast because of her immense talent, following Disney+'s "non-discrimination" policies.
This begs the question: Are token minority characters just being used to get brownie points, or do they actually play a role in normalising representation and inclusivity across all forms of media?
Alexandra Daddario faced similar backlash when she played Annabeth in the movies "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief" (2010) and "Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters" (2013). She did not fit the book's descriptions of Annabeth, having straight brown hair instead of blonde and blue eyes instead of grey. She was also 23-years old at the time, notably older than the source material's 12-year Annabeth. So, with this new reboot featuring actual teen actors, it seemed like we are finally going to get the "true" book-to-TV Show adaptation we always wanted.
Growing up reading the books, I couldn't help but be in awe of Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. Annabeth was intelligent, kind, brave, and witty. Throughout the story she concocted brilliant strategies to get her friends out of the trickiest situations, subverting the "dumb blond" trope. Annabeth inspired a whole generation of young girls who were too "nerdy" or "outspoken" to fit in.
At the end of the day, this is a brand-new era for Percy Jackson, and it's hard to judge an actor without seeing their performance first. I, for one, cannot wait to see how Leah will bring Annabeth to life and add her own unique spin to the character we all know and love. "Percy Jackson" is a story of acceptance and celebration of diversity at its core. It is a story that shows our differences can be our strengths, that anyone can be a hero. So as fans, it is only right that we follow that mentality. I'm looking forward to a whole new generation of kids who will see themselves represented and feel understood and seen through these characters. Maybe this new series won't be an exact replication of the stories, but only time will tell how good of an adaptation it is.