Fans talk colorism and erasure following news of ‘Lilo & Stitch’ casting decision: ‘Darker-skinned Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders exist. Cast some’

Following news of a recent casting decision for Disney’s forthcoming live-action adaptation of Lilo & Stitch, fans have taken to social media to discuss colorism and erasure in Hollywood.

On April 13, the Hollywood Reporter revealed that Lilo & Stitch had cast Sydney Elizabeth Agudong as Nani Pelekai, Lilo Pelekai’s older sister and legal guardian. The decision comes two months after Maia Kealoha, who will play Lilo, and Zach Galifianakis, who will play Pleakley, joined the cast.

Agudong, a 22-year-old actress who was born and raised in Kauai, Hawaii, is reportedly of Hawaiian and Filipino descent.


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

Fans of the 2002 film were quick to voice their disappointment over the casting decision, namely because they feel as though Disney is whitewashing the role of Nani, who is a brown-skinned, Indigenous Hawaiian woman with a realistic body shape. In deliberately choosing to cast an actress who has a lighter skin tone, some fans believe that Disney is promoting prejudice and discrimination against darker-complexioned Hawaiians.

On April 17, newcomer Kahiau Machado was pegged to play David, Nani’s love interest. Machado, fans also note, appears to be visibly lighter skinned than the animated character he portrays.

A 31-year-old Twitter user Faati (@FaatiTheStreet) created a thread outlining the societal relevance of Lilo and Nani being dark-skinned girls to the story’s conflict and narrative as a whole.

Faati argues that the casting Agudong, a lighter-skinned, Filipino-Hawaiian woman, “interferes” with the notion that the future of a native Hawaiian family is being directly threatened by colonialism. Colorism, Faati notes, also largely impacts the way in which individuals are treated by “the government, by the state, and by society at large.”

It’s imperative to keep in mind, Faati argues, that fans aren’t outraged simply by the fact that these actors don’t look like their cartoon counterparts — it’s the fact that the oppression discussed in the film pertains to brown-skinned Hawaiians specifically. Colorism, to this end, has a profoundly negative impact on people of color.

‘Their looks are immutable and should’ve been treated like it.’

“How Nani & Lilo were drawn was a BIG DEAL in the animated movie. Their looks are immutable and should’ve been treated like it,” another Twitter user wrote. “Darker-skinned Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders exist. Cast some. Why the hell would anyone think it would be less important in a live-action version?”

While not exactly the same circumstance, this isn’t the first time Hollywood has been accused of whitewashing a character with Hawaiian roots. Take, for the example, 2015’s Aloha, in which Emma Stone portrays Allison Ng, an Air Force pilot who is supposed to be of Hawaiian, Chinese and Swedish descent. Stone, however, is not biracial herself. Naomi Scott, who was cast as Princess Jasmine in the 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin, sparked a similar debate — given that she’s a lighter-skinned actress of English and Indian descent.

Faati’s Twitter thread, which has more than 2.5 million views, seems to have garnered a mixed response from social media users. While some people have come to her defense, it seems many feel as though she’s politicizing a film that isn’t political.

Still, Faati challenges whitewashing in mainstream media and the ways in which it neglects authentic representations of people of color. While it seems not everyone agrees that Lilo & Stitch has political undertones tied to racial discrimination, the blatant colorism in Disney’s casting decision still appears to be gaining notoriety.

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