Disney recently began announcing the casting for their upcoming Percy Jackson adaptation, based on the books of the same name by Rick Riordan. However, the casting of Annabeth Chase was met with much controversy why? Because, she is a black actress.
Leah Jeffries has been cast as Annabeth Chase, one of the central protagonists from the Percy Jackson series. I read those books when I was younger, and I loved them. I loved the characters, and I loved the way I imagined them based on the author’s guidance. However, despite the depictions of a blonde haired Annabeth, I love the casting of Leah Jeffries. But more than all of that, I love what Rick Riordan had to say about the racist comments Miss Jeffries received.
Whether five years old or ninety-five, verbally abusing a person is never okay, but it was especially bad in this case when grown adults were spewing hate towards someone much younger than themselves – a child – and a girl who deserves the role she auditioned for. The casting raised the question: Is it okay when book characters look different to their descriptions in adaptations? I think, yes. The usual rebuttal to this opinion is that if someone cast Martin Luther King Jr or Princess Tiana as a white person, there would be outrage. But, let me explain why that is not the same thing.
Most of us in this world, due to systemically racist systems that permeate every aspect of society, have certain biases we must unlearn. When I, a black woman, read books, every character in my mind is automatically white until proven otherwise. Why? That’s the usual pattern. In literature, white characters are usually only described in terms of their personality, hair colour, eye colour etc but non-white characters are often defined primarily by their non-whiteness. Look, I get that it can be annoying when you’ve imagined how a book’s cast could look on screen and it isn’t the same. Let’s not forget the controversy when Alexandra Daddario was cast as Annabeth in the films; people were mad about that too, so why is this any different, you may ask.
Well, there is a thick line between being upset and being racist. Hollywood has been whitewashing characters for decades, in the early days because of segregation and since then the fear of going against the so called ‘norm’ and systemic racism. At the end of the day, films and television shows are a great way of re-interpreting books. More importantly, casting more BAME people in movies is never a negative thing; it means better representation for a new generation. And hey, if you’re still upset about casting choices that differ from the original source material, my advice: re-read the material. Respectfully, no one is forcing anyone to watch anything. For the most part, I’m in favour of adaptations veering off course slightly. From a casting point of view, it gives space to the talented individuals who have always been enough but never had the opportunity to share the gift in front of millions in roles they couldn’t have gotten in the past.
If Leah Jeffries is a a talented actress who fits the role of Annabeth in personality and spirit, her skin colour shouldn’t be up for discussion.
– Chloé Jarrett-Bell
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