Percy Jackson Author Speaks Out Against Racist Complaints Over Casting

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From Book Riot:

Author Rick Riordan has spoken out against fans upset about casting choices for the upcoming Disney+ adaptation of his series Percy Jackson and the Olympians.

The series follows Percy, a neurodivergent teen who finds out his father is the Greek god Poseidon, making him a demigod. As he contends with his new powers, he’s accused by the god Zeus of stealing his lightning bolt. Percy journeys with his friends Annabeth and Grover to restore order to the heavens.

On Thursday, the cast for two of the main characters of the show were revealed. Even though Riordan has said the response to the casting has been overwhelmingly positive, there are some who have responded negatively to Annabeth Chase being played by 12-year-old Black actress Leah Jeffries.

. . . .

The author posted a response to the criticism on his website, saying “If you have a problem with this casting, however, take it up with me. You have no one else to blame. We should be able to agree that bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong.”

“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 in the books as white.” He continued, “Friends, that is racism.”

The author also touched on how racism goes against the core message of the Percy Jackson series, adding ” 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 notionsThat neurodivergent kid who has failed out of six schools, for instance, may well be the son of Poseidon. Anyone can be a hero.”

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG had a general idea of what neurodivergent meant, but decided to find out more.

What is neurodiversity?

From Harvard Health Publishing:

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.

The word neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but it is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurological or developmental conditions such as ADHD or learning disabilities. The neurodiversity movement emerged during the 1990s, aiming to increase acceptance and inclusion of all people while embracing neurological differences. Through online platforms, more and more autistic people were able to connect and form a self-advocacy movement. At the same time, Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, coined the term neurodiversity to promote equality and inclusion of “neurological minorities.” While it is primarily a social justice movement, neurodiversity research and education is increasingly important in how clinicians view and address certain disabilities and neurological conditions.

. . . .

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with differences in communication, learning, and behavior, though it can look different from person to person. People with ASD may have a wide range of strengths, abilities, needs, and challenges. For example, some autistic people are able to communicate verbally, have a normal or above average IQ, and live independently. Others might not be able to communicate their needs or feelings, may struggle with impairing and harmful behaviors that impact their safety and well-being, and may be dependent on support in all areas of their life. Additionally, for some people with autism, differences may not cause any suffering to the person themself. Instead, the suffering may result from the barriers imposed by societal norms, causing social exclusion and inequity.

Medical evaluation and treatment is important for individuals with ASD. For example, establishing a formal diagnosis may enable access to social and medical services if needed. A diagnostic explanation may help the individual or their family understand their differences better and enable community connections. Additionally, neurodevelopmental conditions may also be associated with other health issues that require extra monitoring or treatment. It is important that people who need and desire behavioral supports or interventions to promote communication, social, academic, and daily living skills have access to those services in order to maximize their quality of life and developmental potential. However, approaches to interventions cannot be one-size-fits-all, as all individuals will have different goals, desires, and needs.

Link to the rest at Harvard Health Publishing

26 thoughts on “Percy Jackson Author Speaks Out Against Racist Complaints Over Casting”

    • Thanks for linking this; I finally know what the term is for the phenomena. The other day I finally watched “The Most Hated Woman in America” about Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and I noticed the granddaughter Robin got this treatment. In real life she was about 300 pounds, but she is not portrayed that way at all in the movie. Madalyn, John, and Robin were obese, which is one reason Madalyn’s surviving son William doubted the claim they just vanished without anyone noticing.

      I have a suspicion as to why Robin in particular is portrayed by a slender actress, but like Mike, I may get thrown off the internet for saying it: I suspect Hollywood didn’t believe audiences would believe the one claim as to how she was killed if she was shown as her actual size.

      Allegedly the one killer, Gary Karr, liked to force himself on young women, and supposedly he attempted this with Robin. I say supposedly because Karr denies it and the claim comes from his co-murderer, David Waters, who repeatedly lied about everything before he finally led authorities to the corpses. Only Karr is left alive to tell the tale.

      Bookmarking the video for later.

    • Allegedly — I am convinced this is an urban legend — allegedly a British production cast a black actress to play Anne Boleyn. The motive for this strange joke was never explained, but sometimes humor doesn’t translate well across the pond so maybe it’s just as well.

      But yes, obviously Brad Pitt is too old to play Martin Luther King. Obviously. Unless Hollywood uses that “de-oldify” tech they’ve started trotting out recently. Then I guess all bets are off.

        • Denzel Washington did a great job as Mac Beth in the current Apple TV production. I highly recommend it. I also wonder how many Africans made their way to Scotland and led armies a thousand years ago.

          • I heard it was good, and I also wondered how they would explain the character being black. However, I figured since Coen was doing the film in a highly stylized way he was signalling we weren’t supposed to think too deeply about that.

            Sometimes you can get away with anachronisms if you send enough “don’t think too hard about this” signals. An anime series, “Samurai Champloo,” had boomboxes, rappers, and Armani-style eyeglasses in Edo-era Japan without anyone questioning it. It was clear we were supposed to “just go with it.” I got the impression from the trailer Coen meant to have everyone “just go with it.”

            • Well it is Denzel and it is Shakespeare and with the two together you can get away with almost anything. Not his first Shakespeare of course, I remember him as Don Pedro in “Much Ado About Nothing” about 30 years ago and don’t recall any concerns being expressed about his casting (though the same cannot be said of Keanu as Don John).

              Plus -though I may get thrown off the internet for saying this – it is only in lands where the “one touch of the tar brush” rule applies that Denzil is black, elsewhere he’s mixed race (like a large proportion of American “blacks”, other than recent immegrants from Africa).

              • These days the touch thing runs both ways.
                Some high visibility people are critized for not being “black enough” physically or mentally. (C.f., “OREOS”, “acting white”)

                Just further disfunction in disfunctional lands.

              • Cast Meryl Streep as MacBeth, and Denzel Washington as Lady MacBeth, and we would have a truly amazing production.

              • Denzel as Don Pedro was also in a production following the “intentional anachronism / just go with it” rule: all the men are in leather pants. And I was not mad about it 🙂

                I do remember Keanu being the only one called out for not being suitable for the role 🙂

        • Ohhhh. Ohh my. I felt my brain cells being murdered as I read the “explanation.” Not buying it.

  1. One wonders if Riordan would be saying this had the producers decided to cast a white person for a character that was described as black in the books and people were annoyed at that.

    • It has happened frequently with A Wizard of Earthsea. It typically provokes a comment, but then slides by. I have not heard of any actor playing Ged being harassed over it. In fairness, every adaptation so far has really and truly sucked, so the casting issue may just get lost in the general suckiness.

      In general, there are a some stories where the race of the character is the point. Sidney Poitier’s roles in, for example, In the Heat of the Night or Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? could hardly be played by a white actor. Nor could Rod Steiger’s nor Spencer Tracy’s be played by black actors. This is because those movies are about race. But most stories are not about race. For those, colorblind casting is entirely appropriate. The skin color is no more the point than their eye color.

      • A big concern is the future: if colorblind casting is used in future remakes or spinoffs will protests of “whitewashing” follow if a racebent character is cast in line with their tradition?

        Is colorblind casting a two-way street? Is it reversible?

        • This has come up occasionally with anime-to-live action adaptations. Scarlett Johansson as Matoko Kusanagi caused a backlash with fans of the “Ghost in the Shell” series, because well, obviously. And the cast of Shyamalan’s “Avatar the Last Airbender,” because the kids are supposed to be Asian / Inuits but the actors were white, and only the villain was Asian.

          The only other instance I can think of was when someone was bandying about making “Akira” with Robert Pattinson as the main character, Tetsuo. Again, fans were not amused by that plan.

          The difference with Earthsea is that 1) the ethnicity of the anime characters are obvious from their names (Tetsuo, Matoko, Aang). So audiences would inherently be jarred if a character named Matoko looked not even slightly Japanese. But, if everyone pronounced Ged as Jed in their heads (I did), it wouldn’t be surprising if they picture a young, scarred Jed Clampett. You just figure the Heath Ledger-knockoff playing him in the Kristin Kreuk version was meant to be an upgrade in looks. Plus Richard has a point about the lack of outrage, the Earthsea movies weren’t good enough for anyone to care about the casting:

          In all seriousness, I guess it matters how attached the fanbase is to the property. I don’t remember anyone complaining about Jason Momoa as “Aquaman.” The casting was the only clue I had that Aquaman was possibly supposed to be cool. I first heard of that character from the comments Dave Chapelle made about him in an episode of “Dr. Katz,” and I honestly thought Chapelle was making him up because he sounded so lame.

          • Comics are different. Fans are more flexible for good reasons.

            Aquaman, for example.
            I gather you hadn’t run into the Peter David Aquaman (Long hair and beard) or tbe newer Geoff Johns version (cleancut but closer in powers to the original) . Much less, the original Paul Norris version from the 40’s, who was pretty much an aquatic superman and a loner, or the two live action versions. All different but all enjoyable.

            While he was always blond, the origin story (and powers) changed so much over the decades the stories were assigned to different continuities (parallel worlds) since the 60’s.

            The movies and TV shows are understood to take place in different universes, often from each other, not just the comics. So fans just shrug off any changes, as long as the characters are recognizable.

            (The Cathy Gifford Wonder Woman was *not* taken in stride:

            Linda Carter and Gal Gadot both fit the charscter to a T.
            Debra Winger’s Wonder Girl not so much but Conor Leslie is absolutely perfect. Fans can be forgiving. 🙂

            The Aquaman movie took cues from all versions (even the cartoons–the giant sea horse) and gave Momoa enough gold streaks in his hair to pass muster. Plus, as you pointed out, it was a good presentation that hit all the right beats, much as the first Christopher Reeve Superman and to a lesser degree the Grant Gustin Flash.

            (The TV Wally West caused its share of teeth gnashing but not for the racebending. Rather the characterization doesn’t fit any of his comics or animated portrayals. The costume is okay but the character isn’t.

            In general, comics fans are more forgiving because most characters are old enough to have acrued multiple variants so a new one on video doesn’t often lead to heartburn. (Not even Moon Knight.)


            Disney is already facing serious pushback on the upcoming MS MARVEL and for good reason: the character is new enough to have but one portrayal (like a book character) and the changes shown in the trailers showed neither the powers nor the personality of the comics character. The series is being delayed at last report.

            Adaptations are always going to be hard owing to the need to accomodate different media so some care is needed. Fans can be forgiving but they can also raise a ruckus.

            Last example: Tom Cruise is a fine actor but casting him as 6ft5in Jack Reacher was laughable. Alan Ritchman isn’t as good an actor but he has all the physicality that character calls for and he was an asset to the (excellent) series on Prime. When he cows a wife abuser without a wofd, you buy it. Reccomended, BTW.

            As for the new PERCY JACKSON adaptation, the racebending casting might work but the young actress had better deliver. If not, they won’t hear the end of it. They’re setting her up for a world of hurt.

            • I see what you mean about Wonder Woman, I guess that explains why I never heard of that version. No. All wrong. Not even close!

              But yeah, comic fans are more flexible. Offhand I don’t know that anyone complained about Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury. I gather David Hasselhoff once played that character, but it’s hard to imagine him pulling it off as convincingly.

              Someone said Amazon-Reacher presents a good mystery so I plan to watch it soon. Just the fact the character looks like how fans say he’s supposed to look is a good sign. I would absolutely believe the current Reacher could make someone sit “down and shut up,” with a single word or a look. Someone with Cruise’s height or physique would need to display supernatural feats before anyone would just do as he says because he said it. Or he would need a weapon in plain sight. Far less formidable than the current actor.

          • I didn’t understand the backlash against Scarlet Johansson as Motoko Kusanagi, given that the Major is a cybernetic warrior with no real ethnicity other than the name.

            Not only that, but all the Japanese people who were questioned didn’t seem to care either.

            Cultural appropriation is pretty much the signature of human culture. It’s what humans do, copy each other. But what do I know?

            • By current Hollywood thinking, GHOST IN THE MACHINE is unfilmable: too expensive to produce without a big name star to market around and no japanese actress big enough to fill that need.

              The first part is vintage, going back to the early days–the first Chris Reeve SUPERMAN was marketed around Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman, and the effects, not the actual star. The second part, though, is new.

              The producers thought Johannsen is a big enough star to sell the movie to audiences. (she isn’t. These days only Sandra Bullock does that and only because she is careful what movies she does.) They thought wrong. The representation claims were just a media concern; moviegoers didn’t show up because anime is a niche, the story didn’t resonate and the movie frankly isn’t good enough.

              With those failings to overcome the movie was doomed.

              The same applies to NETFLIX’s COWBOY BEBOP which *was* “properly” diverse but tanked big time: no amount of “proper” representation will save a misguided project. But the media and tbe “woke” are too focused on their agenda to pay much attention to “minor” things like narrative coherence and accessibility.

            • I don’t know if the backlash was a manga vs. anime thing. I only saw the anime while waiting for something else to come on (Samurai Champloo; just not into GitS). In the anime, I remember Matoko originally having a prosthetic body, but her head was her “real” head. Then in the season 1 finale she loses the real head and is completely a machine after that. I don’t know how she was presented in the manga.

              If any *anime* watchers thought her body was fake and her head was real (because they didn’t see the second season), it was logical to wonder how she ended up with Scarlett’s head. An interview I saw indicated the idea of using Scarlett was to emphasize up front that Matoko’s mind is occupying an artificial construct. That makes sense to me.

              At any rate, I seriously doubt anyone who believes in the “cultural appropriation” nonsense would be watching anime, given it’s an appropriation of Disney cartoons 🙂 Sometimes people are just annoyed when the casting violates the meaning of the character / plot. John Cho is Asian, but he’s too old to play Spike Spiegel, who is supposed to be 26. Spike’s character has a certain poignancy because of his age and all that he’s been through. Making him 50 takes away his edge.

              • You bad. 😀
                WHITE LION was more interesting, at least in the latin dub I saw. Rather like PRINCESS KNIGHT which had (was given?) properly euro medieval religious themes.

              • Those who cry “cultural appropriation” only care about white people “appropriating” other cultures. It’s perfectly fine, for example, that the Japanese love American cowboys and have put their own twist on punk, pop, etc., but heaven forbid that a white person puts their own spin on a “non-white” anything.

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