It’s no secret that Disney’s live action adaptations are pretty polarizing. Some fans love seeing animated series get that real-life touch, like what Disney did to classics like Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Sleeping Beauty (via Maleficent). But on the flip side, other fans just want Disney to leave the animated movies alone.
But Disney’s upcoming live-action remake of Lilo & Stitch has already got everyone up in arms before it’s even seen the light of day. Here’s why:
Disney taps Sydney Agudong to play the role of Nani Pelekai
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Many fans were delighted after Disney revealed that a live-action remake of Lilo & Stitch is in the works. And as expected, Lilo & Stitch fans were curious to find out which actor portrays who in the comedy sci-fi franchise.
According to a news outlet, actress Sydney Agudong was cast by Disney to play Nani Pelekai, Lilo’s older sister and legal guardian. On paper, Sydney’s casting as Nani was spot on because she was born and raised in Hawaii, where Lilo & Stitch takes place. But not everyone agrees.
The Internet thinks she doesn’t “fit” the role
Although many were happy about this new milestone in Sydney’s career, some felt it was a miscast because she’s a light-skinned Hawaiian with European features. (Sydney is multiracial, with British Irish, Hawaiian, and Filipino roots.) In contrast, the Nani fans knew in the Lilo & Stitch film and animated series is a dark-skinned Hawaiian woman with strong Polynesian features.
“She is a light skin Native Hawaiian and Nani is supposed to be darker-skinned. The role should have gone to someone with Nani’s skin tone,” one Twitter user wrote.
okay so just so we’re clear, when you’re IGNORING the fact that Sydney Agudong is kanaka, you are ignoring the massive part of this conversation: SHE IS A LIGHTSKIN NATIVE HAWAIIAN AND NANI IS SUPPOSED TO BE DARKER SKINNED. THE ROLE SHOULD HAVE GONE TO SOMEONE W NANI’S SKIN TONE.
— belongs to the sovereign kingdom (@kanakabutchboy) April 14, 2023
Another netizen expressed that people should stop glorifying Eurocentric beauty standards for the sake of erasing characteristics and features integral to ethnicities. “Give darker-skinned Pacific islanders the visibility we deserve.”
“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 ethnicites, especially in terms of representation, give darker skinned pacific islanders the visibility we deserve https://t.co/A2LJcgilg9 pic.twitter.com/uQueDcJldS
— مكتبة صوفيا ✧˖°. #FREEPALESTINE (@thebookosaur) April 14, 2023
They also say that while Sydney is a Hawaiian native, she wouldn’t bring to the table the authenticity that a darker-skinned actor would play.
it is fundamentally important to cast a native hawaiian who looks and plays the part of nani, not someone disconnected. while sydney agudong is a hawaiian native, she would not bring to the table any authenticity that someone darker would play.
— cham ☀️🪶 🏳️⚧️ (@hashtali) April 14, 2023
However, others argue Sydney’s skin color “shouldn’t matter”
Much like any other conversation, there’s a bunch that doesn’t see any problem with Disney’s casting decision. They said Sydney is of Hawaiian ancestry and doesn’t deserve to get heat for being cast in a role connected to her heritage. Even though there’s controversy concerning the accuracy of her character, what matters more is if she gives justice to the role of Nani or not.
Sydney Agudong is of Hawaiian ancestry, so there’s no actual issue with her playing Nani in my view. It’s that simple.
There’s bound to be controversy around the color of her skin, but she doesn’t deserve to get heat for being cast in a role that’s tied to her heritage. https://t.co/A7Xlu6IcEd
— Ti – QUINTESSENCE#9860 (@WorkingSideways) April 14, 2023
What about Little Mermaid?
Some netizens also argued that the issue of a light-skinned actress playing Nani is just the same as Halle Bailey playing Ariel in the upcoming The Little Mermaid movie.
However, Lilo & Stitch demands accurate casting because it portrays true-to-life issues that concern race, whereas The Little Mermaid features mythical creatures.
If you’re confused about the debate on casting for The Little Mermaid vs Lilo & Stitch let me break it down for you:
Mermaids — Fictional
Lilo & Nani — Hawaiian
also if you’re sending hate to Sydney Agudong that’s bizarre behavior, focus the narrative on *disney*
— AJ | roman roy apologist 🎞️ (@based_marvel) April 14, 2023
JFYI: Nani’s race/skin color actually does play a role in the story
Is race even important in Lilo and Stitch?
Though it may not be an in-your-face theme of the movie, Lilo & Stitch does address the racism and microaggressions against native (or dark-skinned) Hawaiians. Lilo was bullied and ostracized by a white classmate for being different. And throughout the movie, Nani struggles to get a job (something that native Hawaiians have long contended with), and at one point even expresses resentment toward her “fakey luau” job — the product of colonialism.
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. https://t.co/cbRj0RogtM pic.twitter.com/7bh2nFkhNg
— Kayla Ancrum ✨ (@KaylaAncrum) April 15, 2023
The song “Aloha Oe”, which Nani performs in the movie, also has some important historical and racial context:
The song Aloha Oe (performed by Nani) was written by the last reigning monarch of Hawaii before its forced annexation by the United States, about the pain of being separated from her people and a colonialist nation taking over. Race is definitely a theme in Lilo & Stitch. https://t.co/imX5gZ8dJh
— 🕹️joeycon🕹️ (@seasalt_bae) April 15, 2023
Deleted footage from the movie shows that Lilo was subject to racism.
Just gonna drop this here https://t.co/gPwHoAapgh pic.twitter.com/2hkYn7KQOP
— mimi 🫀 (@illumimimi) April 15, 2023
And if that didn’t irk people enough, Kahiau Machado as David Kawena, a.k.a Nani’s love interest, has upset the fans.
the lilo & stitch casting department said: https://t.co/ajeaHlNowR pic.twitter.com/iZaP2Oaolq
— rhaenyra targaryen’s lawyer (@Targ_Nation) April 18, 2023
PSA: Sending hate to the actors isn’t the answer
As we unravel this conversation, it’s important to remember that Sydney Agudong, Kahiau Machado, and all the other actors involved are people too. Sending hate in their direction is never the answer. Let’s keep our conversations about Disney’s choices civil and productive.
What can you say about Sydney Agudong as Nani?