New Percy Jackson Cast Receives Backlash- What is Good Representation?


Leah Sava Jeffries (Annabeth Chase), Walker Scobell (Percy Jackson), and Aryan Simhadri (Grover Underwood) pose for a picture for the official cast announcement.

Lancy Shi, Photojournalist

Ever since Disney+ revealed that they would be making a show based off the beloved series Percy Jackson and the Olympians, book fans have been frantically waiting as more and more announcements concerning the show are revealed. The reason why so many people were excited was not only because they loved the story itself, but also because they actually had faith in the show creators to make a good adaptation this time, as the movies that were made were notorious for being terrible. Percy Jackson has such an interesting storyline and well developed characters that, if done well, would make a great show. Recently, the official cast was revealed, which received mixed reactions from fans alike. Most of the criticisms stemmed from the casting of the character Annabeth Chase, who was said to be played by Leah Sava Jeffries.

In the original book series, Annabeth is the daughter of Athena, described as a blonde girl with a brilliant mind. Leah is black, and she is not how some fans envisioned Annabeth to look like. Rick Riordan, the author of the original novels, responded to the backlash by stating that “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” ( He also added that “we should be able to agree that bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong” ( Since Riordan stated himself that Leah was fit for the role, it seems the only reason why people are mad is because of her skin color and nothing else. This got me thinking about what really counts as good representation. 

First of all, changing the race of characters is not a new thing. If we look back on things like Hamilton, they literally changed the race of historical figures, not just characters. George Washington was clearly a white man, yet he was played by a black actor in the musical. Another example would be the casting of Alina Starkov from the Shadow and Bone series. In the original books, Alina was white, yet they casted Jessie Mei Li, who was half Asian and did not resemble many European features. 

Let’s start with the argument that all of this is good representation. People who shared this opinion possessed this idea that changing the race of an originally white character would make some fans feel more included. It is a well known fact that Hollywood is not prone to casting people of color for important roles, so if a young Asian girl sees another Asian girl as the leading lady, she would feel represented. To them, it didn’t matter what race the character originally was, as long as there is representation without changing much of the character’s personality, it is good. They also argued that it is racist to think that race changing representation is bad, as that would imply that you don’t want people of color to feel seen or heard. Additionally, they say that there are already plenty of roles for white actors and actresses, so it shouldn’t be a problem to include some new POC actors to the mix.

On the other hand, people have argued that it is not respectful to the original material if they changed the race of a character. Katherine Nguyen (9) argued that “In most scenarios, it is ok if there is no cultural background behind it.” Some people have problems with the fact that some of these characters whose races have been changed do not make sense historically or culturally. Even some people of color I talked to have stated that they didn’t want the race of an original white character to be changed as that seems cheap and performative. Instead, directors should try to create new and original characters that are people of color for a less forced representation. 

No matter what you think about these arguments, YLHS will always be a safe space for discussion. I am sure that most people will agree, at least, with the fact that this situation has many layers, so there isn’t a right or wrong. For most people, it really depends on the situation as well as the specific actor and role. In any case, there is no doubt that the movie industry is becoming more and more inclusive when it comes to race, gender, and sexuality, so it definitely is important to discuss whether or not some of these changes are actually beneficial to minority groups or not.