Fans have accused Disney of “whitewashing” after they announced the casting choice for Nani in the upcoming live-action rendition of Lilo and Stitch.
Disney has been pumping out live-action versions of their animated films left, right and centre. One of the next movies to get the live-action treatment is the beloved early 2000’s classic Lilo and Stitch.
The movie was a favourite for many different reasons.
The animated flick became a favourite for many different reasons. It was a unique story and it tackled heavy subjects such as grief, poverty and foster care with grace.
It was also praised for its representation of the Hawaiian people.
Nani, who is Lilo’s sister and legal guardian, was a standout character for many fans.
A lot of people resonated with her and her struggles to keep her family together amidst the chaos of difficult social workers and, uh, aliens. She was also loved for being the representation for dark-skinned, curvy Islander women in cinema.
But on April 13 2023, The Hollywood Reporter shared that Sydney Agudong — who is reportedly British-Irish with Hawaiian and Filipino ancestry — has been cast for the role of Nani and some fans were outraged with the choice.
Sydney Agudong has been cast as Nani in Disney’s live-action adaptation of ‘LILO & STITCH.’https://t.co/XvgDIsj4Mw pic.twitter.com/anqtxyhGWU
— Film Updates (@FilmUpdates) April 14, 2023
One user on Twitter mentioned that Nani being dark-skinned heavily plays into the plot of the film.
“The conflict occurring in Lilo and Stitch being about the colonialist state attempting to pull this tiny ‘broken’ native Hawaiian family apart is made more apparent by their both being darker-skinned girls,” the user wrote.
The conflict occurring in Lilo and Stitch being about the colonialist state attempting to pull this tiny “broken” native Hawaiian family apart is made more apparent by their both being darker skinned girls
Casting a lighter skinned Hawaiian to play Nani interferes with that pic.twitter.com/kuSoYuDqn3
— Faati (@FaatiTheStreet) April 14, 2023
Another user simply wrote, “This is clearly whitewashing”, in a retweeted post that announced Sydney’s casting.
No. Just fucking no. Nani and lilo, hell all the fucking people in Lilo and Stitch are fucking melanated… meaning they’re not white. This shit isn’t fucking cute. This is clearly white washing https://t.co/SHDeRiqVcN
— ✨️🌃Dreams🌃✨️ (@Dreamsinthenoct) April 14, 2023
Personally, Nani and Lilo meant so much to me because they looked like members of my family. I loved Nani and Lilo’s nose and skin tone, because it was so rare to see someone who had similar facial and body features like me on the big screen, so this choice lowkey had me a bit shook.
A lot of people also took to TikTok to discuss the controversial casting choice.
Radio host for Flava Drive in New Zealand, Mariner ‘Maz’ Fagaiava-Muller, shared his two cents on the matter, saying that Nani’s casting could’ve been the opportunity to showcase the “thick bodied woman” of the Islands.
@marinerfxgaiava Let’s talk the casting of Sydney Agudong as Nani. This is NOT directed at her! She is a beautiful woman and I acknowledge her Hawaiian heritage. This is to the casting directors at Disney, who are most likely white, making decisions about a film that’ll be seen by millions. Fa’afetai x #fyp #nz #liloandstitch #polynesian ♬ original sound – marinerfxgaiava
“The white world doesn’t know that it’s always light skin Pacific Islanders who are poster boys and girls of our culture. We’ve gotta recognise that there is inherent privilege that comes with being of lighter skin tone.
“And so I guess we’re fed up because this could have been a chance to embrace the many dark-skinned, thick bodied woman that there are in the islands,” Maz said.
Another TikTok user @Glorifikus posted a video featuring a bunch of dark-skinned Hawaiian woman alongside the audio, “This is what I wanted, okay? And this is what I got.” In the end of the video, a photo of Sydney popped up with the casting announcement from Twitter.
@glorifikus I just wanted a brown Nani. Disney has a problem with #colorism im not Hawaiian, so let me hush #fyp #fypシ #liloandstitch #nanipelekai ♬ OG THE PASTELS – Kneely_Knight
One of the cooked arguments that is coming out of the Lilo and Stitch discourse is the fact that Halle Bailey was cast as Ariel in the upcoming The Little Mermaid.
But just as Maz mentioned, and many other users, Ariel is a bloody fictional mermaid where as Nani was based on real life people.
Isabel (known as @Loudcactusjuice on TikTok) talked about the Little Mermaid vs Lilo & Stitch argument in her video, saying, “Ariel is a mermaid a fictional person. It’s not as closely connect to like someone’s ethnic background like indigenous Hawaiians.”
@loudcactusjuice representation in producing, casting and screeenwriting is just at important #liloandstitch #nani #liveaction #adaptation #casting #colorism #sideeye #disney #bipoc #fypシ #fyp ♬ original sound – Isabel
One TikToker uploaded a deleted scene from the original 2002’s Lilo & Stitch movie that showed how tourists treated Lilo, a native Hawaiian girl, and how her ethnicity was essential to her character.
@hoodrath0 lilo & Stitch deleted scene part 1 #liloandstich #hawaii #disney ♬ Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride (From “Lilo & Stitch”) – Karaoke Version – Urock Karaoke
Of course, it’s not Sydney Agudong’s fault at all, and no one should be sending her hate for getting this iconic role. It’s just frustrating that a chance to cast a dark-skinned Hawaiian, true to the original character, hasn’t been taken.
As Maz said, it really was an opportunity for representation in cinema.