The Book Was Better (and other reasons why Hollywood sucks)

Right. I may be extremely late to the party, since the movie this rant is centering around came out in 2010, but for all I know nothing has changed much since then.

It’s Percy Jackson, and if you haven’t read the books yet, you should stop reading this post, because it will no doubt contain some heavy spoilers.

My family’s relationship to the series started when my son won the first book in a reading competition. We enjoyed it a lot. Okay, the main character is annoyingly slow on the uptake sometimes (like, seriously? Luke gives him those magical flying shoes which, oops, suddenly turn against their wearer and no one asks the obvious question? And that’s just one example of many?), but the mythology is solid (to the point where my daughter’s history teacher even recommended the books when they did Greek gods in class) and the story is fraught with loving detail and a good sense of dry, deadpan humor. One of our neighbors opened their own miniature front yard library during lockdown, which provided us with the rest of the series and hours spent snuggled up together on the sofa, ruining my voice and growing me into a ginger tea addict just so I could keep reading to the kids. Good times, in other words.

Then the public library opened again and we thought, hey, let’s check out the movie. Should be fun. We were so looking forward to Ares on his motorbike, and Clarisse, and…

Ares isn’t in the movie. Neither is Clarisse. Instead, they sorta seem to have merged Clarisse and Annabeth, and there aren’t even strawberry fields in what should have been Half-Blood Hill but looks like the lowest low budget version of a boy scout camp. Percy and his friends are four or five years too old, Annabeth isn’t blonde, Chiron isn’t a white stallion, and they enter the underworld without passing by Cerberus. I don’t mind Uma Thurman, and she obviously had fun playing the role, but Medusa was supposed to be an old woman. All that (and much more) aside, they twisted, mangled and rewrote the entire story to where none of the other four books would even fit anymore. Anything that could have been done wrong, was done wrong. They failed the readers, spit on the images the books created in our heads, and they failed the author. I saw a quote of him that said, “To you guys, it’s a couple hours of entertainment. To me, it’s my life’s work going through a meat grinder when I pleaded with them not to do it.” I saw an article claim that he hasn’t seen the movies and doesn’t plan on doing it, and I sincerely hope he sticks with that plan. I wouldn’t know how to stomach the pain in his shoes.

And it gets worse. Because apparently displaying absolutely no respect for a person’s creative work isn’t enough.

Griechische gott und göttin silhouette serie, zeus, der vater der götter  und menschen | Premium-Vektor
(image borrowed from de.freepik.com)

In a cast of I don’t know how many people, two roles were given to people of color – Grover, the satyr, and Persephone, wife of Hades. Two roles which were fundamentally changed from the way they had been portrayed in the books, changed into ridiculous clichés. All that remained of shy, thoughtful Grover was a loud, annoying comic relief, and Persephone had miraculously turned into a crazy bitch. Because… why? People of color can’t be shy and thoughtful? I don’t know, but to me, equality looks different. I get that Hollywood wants to be politically correct or whatever you might want to call it. I get that it might be difficult if the main characters of the source material are all white. But why on earth does it have to be done in such painfully patronizing manner? Especially since the mythological background offered better opportunities. You want plain white gods? Seek out Thor, Odin, Freya and the rest of the Norse/Germanic bunch. Since whoever signed responsible for the movie’s cast and character development had such a thing for clichés, why didn’t they jump to the most obvious? Greek gods are hardly supposed to be blue-eyed, blond and white. Black hair, olive skin, dark eyes would have been the way to go. Zeus could have looked like, hm, Jason Momoa in pinstripes? Instead we got… Sean Bean in slacks and a beige jacket. Seriously. I mean… I’m sure it was a nice change for him, not to have to die in a movie for once, but… ugh.

So here’s a thought. If you go and adapt a book for the big screen, stay true to the material. Don’t trample the readers’ feelings or the author’s bleeding heart. And especially, don’t turn people of color into comic relief sidekicks to the white heroes just to make your patronizing white ass feel better. How about adapting books by authors of color instead? You could start with Jason Reynolds, for instance. The Track series would make awesome movies.

About angelikarust

My name is Angelika Rust. I was born in Vienna in 1977. These days, I live in Germany, with my husband, two children, a despotic couple of cats and a hyperactive dog. After having tried almost every possible job from pizza delivery girl to HR consultant, I now make a living knowing English. No, I haven’t yet figured out what I want to be when I grow up, whenever that may be. In the meantime, I write the occasional book.
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