Lilo & Stitch is the latest animated film lined up to be adapted into a live-action movie. It was set in Kaua’i, Hawaii and followed the story of Lilo, a lonely young girl who befriends a chaotic blue alien and teaches him how to be good. Throughout the story, Stitch avoids capture, and he and Lilo get into all sorts of shenanigans that keep Nani from finding work and lead to frequent visits from Lilo’s social worker Cobra Bubbles. The film was well-loved, and when Sydney Agudong was cast to play Nani, there was an immediate outcry.
Nani Pelekai was a beloved animated character. She cared deeply for her sister, working hard to keep Lilo with her after their parent’s death. She is kind, never discourages Lilo from pursuing her interests and is often the voice of reason. She has prominent ethnic features, including black hair, darker “olive” skin and brown eyes.
Sydney Agudong is a biracial actress and a native Hawaiian of Filipino descent who grew up on Kaua’i, much like the Pelekai sisters. Many felt that the actress was too light-skinned and accused Disney of whitewashing the character, picking Agudong because she is “white passing” and “conforms to Eurocentric beauty standards”.
@thebookosaur states, “‘but not all pasifika are darker-‘ NANI IS??? it’s 2023, stop glorifying eurocentric beauty standards in the name of erasing characteristics and features integral to ethnicities, especially in terms of representation, give darker skinned pacific islanders the visibility we deserve”.
After learning about Agudong’s casting as Nani, many fans took to Twitter to complain, with some even sarcastically fan-casting Matthew McConaughey as Agent Bubbles.
One commenter, who had been unaware that race was a theme in the animated movie, received this response from @pasteleria, “yall don’t remember how nani would get laid off of jobs for seemingly random reasons and lilo would get bullied by the white girl in her class and the fact that someone called cps on them in the movie for seemingly no reason – all this happened BEFORE stitch came into the picture”.
@KaylaAncrum added, “Nani working at the ‘Fakey Luau’ alone and even using the phrase ‘fakey luau’ to describe that job was an aggressively political statement, involving colorism, indigeneity and the specific history of colonialism the US has imposed upon the nation of Hawaii This movie is so rich.”
Disney and Hollywood Accused of Colorism
This isn’t the first time fans have called out Disney and Hollywood, and while things are changing and there is more diversity in casting, there are still issues. For example, when ethnically correct actors are picked to play certain characters, often, the actor seems to have the lightest skin possible.
Fans hope that Disney and Hollywood will right the white-washing wrongs of the past and cast darker-skinned actors moving forward.
Sydney Agudong’s casting has yet to be confirmed, but it is evident that fans are not pleased.