Percy Jackson, Minstrel Show

I often walk out of terribly sexist or racist movies, and I would have walked out of Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Lightning Thief over the weekend if I weren’t with my teenage nephews. I embarrass them enough as it is. We had all read the book series together on a long road trip and were stoked to see it on the big screen.

Percy Jackson is a Hollywood blockbuster targeting a young audience with teen leads, so the protagonist is, predictably, a white male. What makes this movie unusually offensive is the portrayal of Percy’s sidekicks, Annabeth and Grover.

In the books, Annabeth is a sword-wielding badass who gets the crew out of jams. In the movie, she is still wielding a sword, but is “conquered” by Percy and demoted to a Damsel In Distress (DID), reminiscent of Coraline, where filmmakers created a new male character so Coraline could be a DID.  Also, Annabeth’s first few scenes are so absurdly sexualized–close-ups with hair blowing, lips pursed, tight clothing–that even my nephews scoffed at the screen.

The sexy makeover of Annabeth is followed by a steady stream of sexist scenes, including Percy and Grover ogling scantily clad girls in a hot tub and later, ogling dozens of grown women slinking about in revealing outfits at a casino.  It’s truly uncomfortable sitting in an audience of kids while cleavage is heaving on the screen.

The sexism in Percy Jackson is matched by the bizarrely racist portrayal of Grover, Percy’s male sidekick.  Grover is played by a black actor, a laudable choice given the over-representation of white people in media. However, this character is simply a mish-mash of gross stereotypes, reminiscent of the 19th century minstrel shows where blacks were portrayed as naively joyous (as slaveholders believed them to be).  Grover is an object of entertainment throughout the movie, providing steady comic relief with his stylized vernacular, “crazy” physical antics and, yes, even dancing.  Grover also embodies the stereotype of black people as animalistic since he’s half human and half goat.

Damaging stereotypes of blacks sexuality also abound in Percy Jackson.  Grover is portrayed as sexually insatiable and immoral, hitting on various women and even walking with four grown women on his arms in one casino scene (pimp imagery, anyone?).  All of his conquests are white women, with the exception of Persephone, played by 30-year-old Rosario Dawson, who rapaciously seduces Grover when her husband isn’t around.  Filmmakers would never show a grown, married, white woman seducing a black teen, or a grown man seducing a teenaged girl, in a kid’s movie.

So skip Percy Jackson and stick with Harry Potter, the wonderfully egalitarian Septimus Heap series, or my personal favorite, the Song of the Lioness books.  They have their flaws as well, but none so egregious as this Greek-god minstrel show.

Comments

  1. Wow! A Greek-god minstrel show. Thank you for the timely warning as winter breaks and we all will be looking for good entertainment. We’ll be taking your advice, skipping the spectacle of twisted black sexuality and misplaced teen agency and go for the real gold – Song of the Lioness looks like a winner.

  2. Kathy Griffith says:

    Annabeth doesn’t fight with a sword, she fights with a celestial bronze knife that was a gift from Luke. And your nephews probably weren’t scoffing as much as admiring.

  3. What would we expect from Greek Mythology that was stolen from Black Egyptian symbolic religion and philosophy. If you have read George G.M. James’ book, Stolen Legacy, you would not be surprised. The movie was totally done in a way that glorifies those who have stolen Black history. A black character HAD to be the protector as well as over-sexed, deformed, and unhuman. These stereotypes have their etiology in preserving the myth of “Greeks being the firs to invent civilization.” It is not the Greeks fault they are portrayed this way but those that like to keep people ignorant. I will not say any more other than, read the book for yourself.

  4. I’m sorry that I am late to the party. I couldn’t help but comment on the Percy bashing that was going on. Personally I think your reading way to much into the movie. I just saw the movie for the first time last week. I have since watched at least 3 more times. I am one who believes if a movie is even only a little interesting or entertaining, it has more than served it’s purpose. Movies are meant only to be that entertaining. They are not accurate or true life representations and should be seenas such. Movies shouldn’t be considered educational. Watch PBS if you

    Movies

  5. Really, the movie was a disgrace to the wonderful books. Don’t put down the books merely because the movie was a piece of c***.

  6. I have to agree with you. I loved the books, they were great. But in the movie, everything was different. Percy was supposed to be a dork, Grover was supposed to be a loser, Movie Annabeth didn’t even share one similarity with Book Annabeth, and everything was really messed up.

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