Leah Sava Jeffries landed her first major role at age 5 in Fox’s “Empire.”
Now, the 12-year-old Metro Detroit actress will star in the upcoming Disney+ series “Percy Jackson and the Olympians.”
The news was greeted with pride and good wishes on the Facebook page of the Novi Community School District, where Jeffries is in seventh grade.
“Leah is an incredible young woman! I am incredibly happy for her! posted a person. “Congratulations, what a great achievement!” writes another.
She also seems strong beyond her years. Since her casting was announced on Variety last week, Jeffries has faced all-too-familiar ugliness on social media to be a black actress cast as a character portrayed as white in the “Percy Jackson” books.
Jeffries responded with an Instagram Live post that thanked her fans and promised that she would remain confident. “To those who hate, stop doing this! Like, I know you think it’s going to hurt me. It’s not. You’re just wasting time,” she said.
‘Percy Jackson’ author Rick Riordan denounced the racist criticism on his blog and wrote, “The response to Leah’s casting has been overwhelmingly positive and joyful, as it should be. Leah brings so much energy and enthusiasm for 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.”
Riordan continued, “If you have a problem with this casting, however, speak up with me. You have no one else to blame. Whatever else you take away from this message, we should be able to agree that the “bullying and harassing a child online is inexcusably wrong. As strong as Leah is, even though we’ve discussed the potential for this kind of backlash and the intense pressure this role will bring, the negative feedback she has received online are irrelevant. They need to stop. Now.”
Riordan also posted that he researched the best actors to portray the three characters during a year-long casting process: “This trio is the best. Leah Jeffries is Annabeth Chase.”
The Disney+ series will star Walker Scobell in the title role of 12-year-old Percy, a teenage demigod; Aryan Simhadri as Grover, a half-boy, half-goat satyr; and Jeffries as Annabeth, a daughter of the goddess Athena.
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For Jeffries, it’s a new step in his career as a young rising star. She also appeared as the daughter of Lil Rel Howery in the Fox comedy “Rel.” His latest film, “Beast,” is described as a father’s effort to save his family from a vicious lion on an African game reserve.
Jeffries will also star in an upcoming holiday romantic comedy called “Something from Tiffany’s.” It stars Zoey Deutch and Shay Mitchell and is produced by Amazon Studios and Hello Sunshine, Reese Witherspoon’s production company.
Jeffries was just 5 years old when she appeared on the hit drama “Empire” as recurring character Lola, who was revealed to be the daughter of music mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard). Prior to “Empire”, Jeffries did child modeling, including work for Carol’s Daughter brand children’s products.
In 2015, “Empire” casting director Claire Simon praised Jeffries’ performance, telling the Free Press that her character, who was slated to appear in a few episodes, continued to be written into the series.
“Besides being absolutely adorable, she had this incredibly charismatic personality,” Simon said.
Novi Middle School principal Robert Baker describes Jeffries as a student who has “a kind smile on her face all the time, a presence in the hallways people gravitate to, someone who cares a lot about her friends.” .
Baker says Jeffries works with tutors when she’s out of school on acting assignments and maintains “the most positive disposition” when she returns to school and readjusts to that schedule.
Jeffries is also distinguished by “a very strong focus on what it takes to achieve his goals,” according to Baker. “She has a vision of herself and what she wants to do.”
This isn’t the Detroit Metro’s first link to a “Percy Jackson” project. Brandon T. Jackson – the son of Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Great Faith Ministries International in Detroit – played Grover in the 2010 film “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”
Contact Julie Hinds, Detroit Free Press pop culture critic, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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