Sydney Agudong has been cast as Lilo’s sister in the live-action remake, and people are upset because the actress has lighter skin than the animated character.
Even though Disney has yet to release the live-action remake of The Little Mermaid or the live-action sequel to Aladdin, they are already making plans to remake Lilo and Stitch. Things were going smoother than Stitch’s hero Elvis until the recent casting news that Sydney Agudong has been cast as Lilo’s sister Nani. While the actor is actually of Hawaiian and Filipino descent and grew up in Hawaii, the simple fact is that she has much lighter skin than the animated character she is portraying, and this has fans accusing Disney of whitewashing a fan-favorite character.
This Lilo and Stitch fan, for example, acknowledges that “first off Kanaka Māoli come in a variety of shades,” but they think that Disney is intentionally engaging in colorism by casting someone with lighter skin to bring a darker-skinner character to life. Basically, this user thinks that Disney is using racist casting in order to appeal to audiences, which implicitly includes foreign audiences (including China and even Kuwait, both of which have received censored Disney films) as well as domestic audiences.
While some Lilo and Stitch fans may argue that Agudong was simply the best choice for the role, this user believes that the casting director should have chosen Sydney Park instead due to both Park’s skills as an actor as well as her physical resemblance to the character. As one of the stars of That’s So Raven, Park is already Disney royalty in the eyes of many fans. But Park does not have the ethnicity of Nani’s character, proving that Disney faced their own no-win scenario straight out of Star Trek: if they cast someone purely for physical resemblance, they’d be accused of being ethnically insensitive, but by focusing on ethnic accuracy, they ended up accused of whitewashing.
We like to think this Lilo and Stitch fan speaks for the majority of the fandom. While some fans don’t like to engage in the colorism debate because it is so difficult to prove what intent Disney had, this fan notes that it would have been “so easy not to.” In other words, the casting director of a live-action adaptation could have focused more on casting someone who looked more like the character, which is…well…one of the most important considerations for a live-action adaptation.
Finally, this fan made the inevitable Family Guy joke about how Disney seems to be casting the live-action Lilo and Stitch movie. While it’s funny, the sad truth is that Disney has been doing this in their classic animated features for a long time before this. For example, long before Will Smith played Genie, the original animated Aladdin featured Jafar having a much darker complexion than Aladdin or Jasmine, and fans argued it was racist to make dark skin part of how Disney coded the evil villain.
As for us, it’s hard to get too worked up about the Lilo and Stitch remake because we’re still busy trying to figure out where all the demand for these live-action films came from. Are there really legions of fans who want worse versions of their favorite movies featuring actors they won’t like as much? If so, these fans are likely quite happy that every other movie in Hollywood is a sequel, prequel, remake, or reboot, and they may never have to fall in love with a new intellectual property ever again.