What is happening to Leah Jeffries, who just got a role in “Percy Jackson,” is not new. Six years ago, Zendaya went through it when Marvel chose her to play MJ in the “Spider-Man” movies starring Tom Holland. Racists lost their minds over their fans.
When it was announced that Halle Bailey would play Ariel in the live-action version of “The Little Mermaid,” a small, loud group of people with the same kind of stupid ideas went into a tizzy.
In the same year, 2019, it was announced that Lashana Lynch would be the first Black woman to play 007 in the James Bond series. Assuming there are fans of both Disney fairy tales and that spy game, this meant that a lot of people with small minds stayed angry.
It happened to Celina Smith when she played Annie in NBC’s “Annie Live!” She was the second Black girl to play the famous orphan after Quvenzhané Wallis in 2014. It also happened to Wallis, who, when she played Annie, was the youngest actress ever to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress.
People who are black, female, and successful often have to deal with racist harassment, especially if they try to take on roles that are thought to be for white people.
In fact, what is happening to Jeffries is a lot like what white supremacists did to Amandla Stenberg in 2012 because she played Rue in “The Hunger Games,” and Rue has always been a Black character.
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So, by getting the part of Annabeth Chase in the upcoming Disney+ version of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians,” Jeffries has joined a group of women who have played the role.
This doesn’t have anything to do with the hate Jeffries has had to deal with since her casting was announced a week ago, along with the casting of Walker Scobell (“The Adam Project”) as Percy and Aryan Simhadri as Percy’s friend Grover.
People who are black, female, and successful often have to deal with racist harassment. This is especially true for those who dare to stand up for themselves in high-profile roles that are usually thought to be for white people.
Instead, the sorority I’m talking about is known for how good it is. Some of the people I’ve talked about have been honored by award committees. Some, like Smith and Jeffries, are getting better and better. But they all got where they are by showing that their skills are better than anyone else’s.
That’s the part that really bothers racists, especially when the role is one that people wish they could have or be with a fictional character. This is what nearly every human or demihuman in popular fiction is like.
Scobell plays the 12-year-old version of the hero in “Percy Jackson.” When the hero starts to have strange powers, he finds out that he is the son of Poseidon.
Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” books describe Annabeth as having curly blonde hair, tanned skin, and grey eyes. She also has special abilities that have nothing to do with how she looks in the books. Riordan admits this in a detailed blog post from May 10 that is notable for how specifically he calls out those who are attacking Jeffries:
If you know a lot about Annabeth Chase, you might understand why it bothers white supremacists to see a Black girl play her. In short, it’s because she’s a demigod and the daughter of Athena.
She’s also written as being athletic, very smart, and smart, all of which make Percy want to be her friend before they fall in love. Annabeth is the only other character besides Percy to appear in both the Norse and Egyptian books by the same author.
This makes her one of the most popular characters in modern young adult literature. For some readers, she is as important as the “Harry Potter” heroine Hermione Granger, whose adult version was played by a Black actor, Noma Dumezweni, in the London production of the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.”
No child deserves to be treated badly, even if it’s for something she’s done right. But Black girls have never had to follow that rule.
The casting of Dumezweni also got a lot of attention, which, along with the other cases, should tell you something about what these complainers have in common: most of them are adults or close to it.
They think they owe it to themselves or their children to keep their favorite fairy tales from being changed. People of color who love these stories have had to do this since, well, forever. They can’t stand being asked to identify with a hero who doesn’t look like them in some way.
The fact that they’re taking out their anger on a 12-year-old girl is especially sad, but it’s not the first time they’ve done something like this. Wallis was only 11 years old when scumbags on Twitter called her the N-word because she had the nerve to be cast in a musical that I’ll bet my bottom dollar few people care about.
When Stenberg wasn’t much older, online trolls said the worst things they could think of about her. It should go without saying, but no child should have to deal with a lot of hate, especially when she has done something right.
But this rule has never been enforced against Black girls or women. This week, lowlifes sent TikTok’s admins so many fake reports of violations that both of Jeffries’ accounts were taken down.
Even so, she keeps showing a level of strength that was probably taught to her by the people she’s trying to be like. One difference is that she chooses to respond with kindness and positivity instead of staying quiet or giving a response that her PR team came up with.
Let me be clear: a measured response that shows bigots you’re above it all is still a good way to deal with cheap hatred, especially for well-known performers. Jeffries, on the other hand, doesn’t even have her own Wikipedia page yet, so she has to use her charm offensive to cut through the hate.
In a video that was just posted, she thanked her fans and sent the same bubbly message to the people who had hurt her.
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“To whoever is hating: stop doing that,” she said calmly. “Like, I mean, I know you think that’s gonna hurt me, though. It’s not. You’re just wasting time. I’m still confident in myself. Everyone else is confident! Everyone else is happy for me. So don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t try to bring me down. Not going to work.”
That is correct. Not at all. Look at the records of the people who have already made it through this gauntlet. Zendaya
is the heart of “Euphoria.” She has won an Emmy and stars with Tom Holland in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” which is the third-highest-grossing domestic movie in history.
Stenberg is an activist who has been in movies like “Dear Evan Hansen” and will be a main character in a new “Star Wars
” show. “Swagger
” is a great basketball drama on Starz, and Wallis is one of the best reasons to watch it. Another reason why these bigots are so mean to these girls and women is that their appearance on shows like this means that we’ll see a lot more of them in the future.
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Riordan’s angry response is also unusual because he didn’t wait for a reporter to ask him what he thought about how Jeffries was being treated or give his approval in a short burst on Twitter like J.K. Rowling
did when she defended Dumezweni. He didn’t do it because he thinks his racist fans will believe him.
That has never been a part of the racist’s deeply held beliefs. Rather, it is important because it backs up what the vast majority of people who support Jeffries already know. Riordan’s statement that “Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase” is not just him throwing his weight behind the actress.
It’s to make sure that he and Disney both agree that she’s the face of the future. For more such content do follow us only on leedaily.com