Casting people of color should be celebrated

Representation in popular media is more important than your white fragility.

(Megan Dang / Daily Trojan)

When Leah Jeffries was cast as Annabeth Chase in the new “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” television series on Disney+, the internet went into an uproar. Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell), Aryan Simhadri (Grover Underwood) and Annabeth Chase were brought to life when the show premiered on Dec. 19, 2023. While fans can now delight in seeing their favorite characters on screen, the May 2022 casting decision was contested by many. 

Rick Riordan, the author of the “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” book series, announced the casting of the “Celestial Trio” almost two years ago in an Instagram post of Jeffries, Scobell and Simhadri that read, “Casting news: the trio is complete.” What followed next — alongside the joy of seeing a beloved book series being adapted — was a ridiculous outcry from “fans” who believed that the author of the very series that was being adapted did not choose the correct cast for his own characters.

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In the books, Annabeth Chase is described as having curly blonde hair with gray eyes. Due to her different appearance, Jeffries unfortunately received backlash and faced bullying until eventually Rick Riordan had to address the hate. In a post, Riordan discussed the casting process, stating clearly “Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase,” something that is indisputably evident on the screen. 

But Jeffries isn’t the only one who plays a character that looks different in the novels. Percy Jackson, in the books, has sea-green eyes and black, messy hair. Conversely, Walker Scobell has blonde hair and blue eyes. Despite this, he did not receive nearly the same backlash as his co-star. 

Now, I am not saying that Scobell should receive any hate, but it is impossible to ignore the racism that actors of color face when cast in what used to be a “white” role. It goes to show that some don’t have an issue with a character appearing different, as long as they are white. The problem, for them, lies in the fact that a person of color has been cast in a role that was originally portrayed by a white person. 

It isn’t just Jeffries who has had to navigate such online hate. Halle Bailey received similar backlash following her casting as Ariel in “The Little Mermaid” (2023). More recently, Avantika as Karen Shetty in the new “Mean Girls” and Rachel Zegler as “Snow White” (2025) have received hate from various viewers. 

Some viewers claimed that their representation was being taken away, despite the fact that the original content in which they felt represented still exists. Aside from the fact that all the actresses mentioned possess great talent, they are also creating more representation for their audiences. 

People of color have long gone without representation in film and television; they have been forced to find ways to identify with characters through traits that aren’t physical. Casting actors of color in roles that were originally seen as white can finally provide the physical representation that was lacking and help people feel seen. 

A wholesome viral video of a little girl reacting to Halle Bailey as Ariel is a testament to this. In the video, she puts her hand on her chest as she stares at the screen in awe, saying “Brown Ariel is cute.” Connecting with characters and growing up seeing yourself on screen is a vital experience that everyone deserves to have. 

Avantika discusses how liberating it feels to play a character that strayed away from the South Asian stereotype that the media perpetuates. Stereotyping actors of color into one role can homogenize that ethnicity, which leads to biases and preconceived notions that may be harmful.

Representation in movies, shows, books and other media can be extremely impactful. While roles should always be specifically created for people of color as well, adaptations that feature actors of color instead of white actors are also important. This casting does not take away from the original material, which is available to be consumed at any time. Instead, it provides new people with the chance to see themselves empowered in various roles. 

Amrita Vora is a sophomore writing about the impact of social media on adolescents and college students. Her column, “Chronically Online,” runs every other Monday.


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