Can We Stop Being Racist When POC Actors Are Cast?

In the past couple of weeks, there have been some huge casting announcements in two of my biggest fandoms – Doctor Who, for the newest Doctor, and the three main characters for the highly anticipated Disney+ adaptation of Percy Jackson and the Olympians. I am SO excited for the both of these, as Doctor Who is one of my absolute favorite TV series and I love the entire Percy world so much, and was so disappointed in the two movies that were made so I’m excited (and wary) about the tv show.

There have been HUGE casting news and guys, I’m so excited!

For the newest Doctor in the Doctor Who series, Ncuti Gatwa. Ncuti is known mostly for his role as Eric in the show, Sex Education, on Netflix. While I’ve never watched the show myself, I’ve heard nothing but good things and Ncuti is obviously a stand out from the cast, having won a BAFTA Scotland Award for the role AND been nominated not once, but three times for a BAFTA Television Award for Best Male Comedic Performance. I’m incredibly excited for this casting. I think a lot of fans have been hoping for some diversity in the casting for awhile, shown by the incredibly popular fan casting of Idris Elba, and this seems like a great casting. Ncuti has acting chops and obviously has some great experience. I also think the fact that he’s experience but not incredibly well known makes for a great casting. I’m really excited to see how this goes! I’ve enjoyed all incarnations of the Doctor, from Hartnell to Whittaker so I’m more than ready to see what this Doctor will be like.

We also recently got a LOT of casting news for the Percy Jackson Disney+ series. Walker Scobell was announced first, playing the main guy himself, Percy. He’s most recently know for the very recent movie release, The Adam Project, playing a younger version of Ryan Reynold’s character. I was immediately so happy with the casting, mostly because I knew how involved Rick has been this time around, which gives me a lot of confidence, AND because of how young Walker is – it means they aren’t aging up the characters.

Then just a day or so ago, they announced the casting of the other two main characters, Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena and best friend of Percy, and Grover Underwood, a satyr who is Percy’s friend and protector. Aryan Simhadri, already a Disney veteran with roles in the Cheaper by the Dozen reboot and the series Spin, was cast as Grover and Leah Sava Jeffries, coming off a regular role on Empire, was cast as Annabeth. I love them both. Again, I’m so glad they’ve casted young and that they’re going to be keeping a little closer to the book ages. I really liked Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario and Brandon T Jackson as Percy, Annabeth and Grover but they were just too old for the roles and it did damage to both The Lightning Thief and The Sea of Monsters movies. I’m so excited to see these kids bring some of my favorite characters to life. I think that its great that they obviously have experience but also are relatively unknown and can step into these iconic roles.

Guys its been a matter of days.

And the racism is absolutely rampant about these castings, especially when it comes to Ncuti as the Doctor and Leah as Annabeth.

And frankly, I’m tired of this shit.

A few years ago, when Netflix made the sadly short-lived Baby-Sitters Club series, they cast the amazing Xochitl Gomez (now blowing up the big screen as America Chavez in the newest Doctor Strange movie) as Dawn Schaefer. This made book fans so angry. In the books, Dawn is what was seen as a typical California girl back in the 1980s – long blonde hair, white, sort of hippie, and so on. The thing is – they kept so much about Dawn’s actual character, besides making her Latina and, oh yeah, her dad is gay. People lost it and it was so frustrating. I grew up absolutely LOVING those books, totally obsessed, but I never saw myself in them and even in my 30s, seeing Dawn as Latina, as what a California girl really is, was so beautiful and POWERFUL. And again, I’m in my 30s. Representation matters and I loved to see all the things that made Dawn great in the book and seeing her as Latina. There was also a lot of issue with Mary  Anne being cast as biracial, which also irritated me as a biracial kid myself.

It happens again and again and again and it boils down to straight up racism. It’s people being upset that Zendaya was cast as MJ (though, hello, she’s not even Mary Jane Watson). It’s Hermione Granger being cast as black in the Cursed Child. Its the classic role of little orphan Annie being cast as a black girl or Meg from A Wrinkle in Time. It’s Ariel from the Little Mermaid and Starfire in the live action Teen Titans. People cannot handle that traditionally white characters being played by actors or actresses of color.

And guys, it’s straight racism.

People will try to make the argument that it is important to keep true to a character’s physical appearance. I think that can be true! But here’s where it is true. It is true that you need to keep true to a character’s appearance when their appearance – their race, ethnicity, religion, etc – is important to the development of their character or their story. STOP SAYING THINGS LIKE, “well, what if we made Tiana white or what if we made Black Panther white?” THAT IS BULLSHIT AND IT NEEDS TO STOP. Tiana being a black girl in New Orleans, trying to live out her dream, is damn important to her story. T’Challa/Black Panther being black is insanely integral to the story.

It’s the same people who say “well why isn’t there a straight pride day/parade/month?” If you don’t understand why that’s not necessary, if you don’t understand why characters of color can’t be cast as white actors, then frankly you’re ignorant and stupid.

Because here’s the thing!!! Ariel doesn’t need to be white! Mary Jane doesn’t need to be white! Hermione doesn’t need to be white! James Bond does not need to be white! Their stories can still be the same, the important parts of their characters and their journeys do not rely on what color their skin is and its wonderful to see people of different colors and genders playing these traditionally white or male characters. The integrity of who their character is and the commitment to staying true to their stories does not rely on race or religion or, sometimes, even gender and its okay to cast someone who is black or brown or whatever as someone who has been, in the past, described or cast as white.

The Doctor is an alien. They are something that does not even exist in the real world and yet, in the past few years, I’ve seen so many people upset about the mere existence of a female Doctor and now I’m seeing it again with the casting of a black Doctor. As if what the Doctor LOOKS like matters to his or her character! There are so many incarnations to the Doctor, an actual alien, and we’re going to throw our arms up because the newest actor picked to play them is black. There are NO rules that say that the Doctor can’t be a woman or a black man. THE DOCTOR IS AN ALIEN!!

Are you serious? I’m so excited to see Ncuti to take on the role and I trust that he will do a phenomenal job doing so. I believe it because I think every person who has taken on the role has done a phenomenal job and that they’ve all brought something different and unique and wonderful to the character. I also trust that it’s the right choice because Russell T Davies is back at the helm. Personally, he’s created some of my favorite parts of the Doctor Who series, and factually, he’s the reason Doctor Who had its resurgence in the early 2000s and why its so popular today. I’d like to think that he made a right decision in casting Ncuti.

When it comes to Leah cast as Annabeth Chase, I’m furious at the absolute hate that is coming out against her casting and I’m not the only one. Rick Riordan himself is absolutely disgusted at it and he’s making it known. He’s calling it out exactly the way it is – it’s racism to be upset that a black girl will be playing a white character in the adaptation.

“Anyone can be a hero,” Rick wrote on his Twitter today, “If you don’t get that, if you’re still upset abut the casting of this marvelous trio, then it doesn’t matter how many times you have read the books. You didn’t learn anything from them. #LeahIsOurAnnabeth”

Annabeth is one of my favorite characters in all of literature and I know I’m not the only one to think that. She is smart and incredibly brave. She is a good and loyal friend, she’s funny and ambitious and determined but also emotional and real and familiar. She is capable and a true hero in the series. Her being blonde and white has little to do with that and I know that Leah is going to capture everything that is wonderful and amazing about Annabeth and she’s going to do a great job at bringing her to life.

I actually saw today, a post about the casting of Leah as Annabeth, saying that not casting a young, blonde actress was preventing “positive blonde representation”. And guys I wanted to scream and laugh and just shake my head.

I’m not saying that blondes always have the best representation in media. I get that the dumb blonde trope is one that has been perpetuated for years and that it can be hard to break away from them. I get that. And I get that maybe Annabeth provided a bit of that, due to being blonde but the smartest kid in the books, as a daughter of Athena, the goddess of wisdom.

But can we talk about media for the past, oh, I don’t know, one hundred years? Predominately white. For over a century, characters were always white. Always. All the time. The heroes, man or woman, would always be white. If you saw a Latinx or black character on the screen, they were a criminal or a servant or a caricature of their race. If you saw an Asian character, they were the tech or math geek, the smart one, never the romantic or action hero. And that’s assuming that the person playing the character was even the race they were supposed to be portraying. I’m looking at you, Emma Stone, Christian Bale, Mickey Rooney, Scarlett Johansson and so many more. Even when the media claims to have diverse characters, they white wash the crap out of them.

White characters have existed for so long. People like me, people of color, have struggled to find themselves portrayed in media for ages. My entire childhood and young adult life, I never saw myself in the pages of the books that I read. All the characters that I read in Meg Cabot, Sarah Dessen, and more were all white. Maybe you’d get a side character that was a person of color but never the main character. It’s finally changing, now that I’m an adult, and I’m HERE FOR IT.

Not wanting a traditional white character to be played by a person of color is racism. Hard stop. There’s no arguing your way around it. There’s no explanation,  there is no reasoning. You are being racist. You are judging a talented black man before he’s had a chance to even suit up as the Doctor. You are judging a literal child, a black girl, on her ability to play Annabeth before she’s done ANYTHING. You are judging the both of them based on the color of their skin and making the decision that they are incapable of  playing those characters.

That is racism. Period. You. Are. Racist.

It confuses me. It does. Because I feel, as a fan of Doctor Who, a fan of Percy Jackson, I’m more loving, more accepting, more tolerant, more open because of the tv show and because of the book. By being racist, by being so damn upset that the Doctor is black or that Annabeth is black, that you’ve missed the entire point of either piece of media.

“Nobody important? Blimey, that’s amazing. D’you know in 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who isn’t important?”

The Doctor has met so many people and aliens over the hundreds of years they’ve been alive and people of all different looks and kinds and possibilities and they have cared for them all. They have loved them all. Why shouldn’t the Doctor be black? Why couldn’t that be a possibility? Why shouldn’t that be possible? Annabeth Chase is a special little girl, smart and determined and strong and a hero, and she can be all of those things regardless of what color she is. Leah is going to be an amazing Annabeth and the impact that she will have to little black girls – hell, black girls of any age – is going to be SO huge.

Can we stop judging any actor cast as a character that we love before they’ve had a chance to do anything? The most important part to me, in casting someone to play a character that I am attached to is that they bring their personality to life, that they are on the same journey as the book and they keep true to the character’s soul. If they look different, who the fuck cares? I just want them to live and breathe the character’s inner being and Ncuti and Leah can do that!

I want to leave you guys with one more thing before I finish because it comes straight from Rick himself and I think its important because its simple. I’ve said a lot in this post because I’ve had a lot to say but Rick’s statement here takes everything I’ve said and boils it down to one thing –

You’re being racist if you’re judging the casting of Ncuti Gatwa and Leah Sava Jeffries. Period. And it HAS to stop.

You Heard What I Had to Say - What Do You Have to Say?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.