It’s not uncommon for a Disney movie to become a cult classic, transcending time and remaining a popular fan favorite. But Lilo and Stitch (2001) is truly a special case.
For anyone who’s never seen this cult classic Disney movie, Lilo and Stitch is about the unlikely friendship between a weird little girl (Lilo) and an alien from outer space posing as her dog (Stitch). And yes, it’s incredibly relevant that we point out how weird Lilo is.
Lilo and Nani are two sisters whose family has been torn apart by tragedy, leaving just the two of them alone. Not only that, but Lilo has a hard time making friends because, again, she’s strange! She doesn’t fit the mold, which is probably why she sees so much potential in Stitch despite him easily being one of the worst dogs ever. In short, she feels lonely.
It’s also imperative to note that Lilo and Nani are native Hawaiians. For those who don’t know, most native Hawaiians feel very strongly about tourism and tourist culture in their state. Not only was Hawaii turned into an American state against the peoples’ will, but now many white tourists visit and treat the culture and native people like something to gawk at, with little respect. This is important to note because it further drives home that Lilo feels lonely and estranged, in her own space.
For much of the film, Lilo is seen mocking and making fun of ignorant tourists. This is why Disney’s latest casting choice has created some controversy.
Sydney Agudong, an actress and singer from Hawaii, was recently cast as the live-action version of Nani. Although she’s native Hawaiian, her skin tone is noticeably lighter than the original Nani, who has very dark skin and black hair. To many fans of the film, especially fans who could relate to the challenges associated with non-European features, it’s essential to cast an actress that looks the role.
Many fans of the original Disney movie Lilo and Stitch are disappointed and let down after having their first impression of the actress chosen to play the role of Nani. After all, much of the film’s context revolves around Lilo and Nani’s identities as native Hawaiians and the challenges they face due to tourism culture.
After choosing an actress with more Euro-centric features, Disney has been accused of ‘colorism,’ a practice that glorifies people of color with whiter looking features as opposed to celebrating people of color with features more common amongst their respective communities.
Of course, no stills or footage has been released of the film, so audiences have no idea what Sydney Agudong will look like while playing Nani. It seems like this is one of those awkward Disney moments where only time will tell whether it was a wise choice or not.