On Tuesday, the young adult novelist, 57, spoke out against backlash the show has received after Variety announced last Thursday that Leah Jeffries, a 12-year-old Black actress, will play Annabeth Chase, whom Riordan described in the books as white.
“The response to the casting of Leah has been overwhelmingly positive and joyous, as it should be,” Riordan wrote on his website. “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.”
But the author added not every response has been supportive.
“If you have a problem with this casting, however, take it up with me. You have no one else to blame,” he continued. “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.”
Riordan said his goal with casting was to find performers who could “inhabit and bring to life the personalities of these characters” regardless of what they looked like.
“Some of you have apparently felt offended or exasperated when your objections are called out online as racist. ‘But I am not racist,’ you say. ‘It is not racist to want an actor who is accurate to the book’s description of the character!’ Let’s examine that statement.”
The author added that those saying Jeffries doesn’t fit the role because she’s not white are dismissing her “years of hard work honing her craft, her talent, her tenacity, her focus, her screen presence.”
“You have decided that I couldn’t possibly mean what I have always said: That the true nature of the character lies in their personality. You feel I must have been coerced, brainwashed, bribed, threatened, whatever, or I as a white male author never would have chosen a Black actor for the part of this canonically white girl.”
He continued: “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. Friends, that is racism.”
In addition to announcing Jeffries as Annabeth, Variety also reported “Cheaper by the Dozen” star Aryan Simhadri will play satyr Grover. Walker Scobell from “The Adam Project” had already been announced as series protagonist Percy Jackson.
In May 2020, Riordan confirmed on Twitter that a live-action series based on his books about kids descended from Greek gods would be coming to Disney+.
“Rest assured that (my wife) Becky & I will be involved in person in every aspect of the show,” he wrote in the announcement. “Buckle up, demigods. It’s going to be a fantastic, exciting ride!”