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Famous Birthdays/YouTube Lilo and Stitch/Fandom

The live-action ‘Lilo & Stitch’ is facing criticism for its casting choices, with fans accusing Disney of colorism

Fans argue that the actors cast as Nani and David don’t reflect the characters’ original ethnicity.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Lilo & Stitch is the latest Disney movie to get the live-action treatment, with the main cast being revealed this week. However, the remake is already in hot water over its casting choice for Nani and David, Lilo’s older sister and her love interest.

The actors in question are Sydney Agudong and Kahiau Machado, both of whom are Hawai’ian, reflecting the original film’s Hawai’ian characters and setting. But when these casting announcements arrived on social media, many fans took issue with side-by-side comparisons between the animated characters and live-action cast, pointing out that the actors are light-skinned and have different facial features from the original Nani and David.

@pisceswithasideoffries #greenscreen #LiloAndStitch #LiloandStitchLiveAction #Lilo #Nani #Stitch #DavidKawena #fyp #fypシ #fypage ♬ original sound – sindi🌒

“The colorism is astounding!” reads one of many frustrated reponses to Nani’s casting on Twitter. “Why not hire a dark skin native Hawaiian?!” Others posted snide comments like the Family Guy racist skintone chart meme, or joked, “Was Scarlett Johansson busy???”

These casting choices have also sparked several viral TikToks digging into the optics of hiring lighter-skinned actors for these roles. “How hard is it to find a dark-skinned indigenous Hawai’ian woman to play this role?” demanded TikToker @marshmallowmoney, to the tune of 470,000 views.

Meanwhile, TikToker @dreamafromvenus argued that choosing these actors “perpetuates this idea that it’s difficult to find somebody who looks of this image, when it’s not! It’s not difficult to find somebody who looks like Nani, you just don’t want to put your investment in them.”

@dreamafromvenus UNCONFIRMED but the streets are saying she’s not even Kanaka!!! #liloandstitch#liloandstitchliveaction#nani#nanililoandstitch#disney#colorism#casting#sydney#nativetiktok#kanaka#kanakamaoli#hawaiitiktok ♬ original sound – dreama

“They might as well cast Amy Schumer to play lilo’s mom or something,” quipped another TikToker, @zeinaboucoulibaly. “my girl Nani was thick with ethnic features.”

@zeinaboucoulibaly I know lilo’s parents aren’t even in the movie 😭 but this is crazy #liloandstitch #liloandstitchliveaction #nani #davidkawena #greenscreen ♬ original sound – Zeinabou

A few commenters were more defensive, arguing that Agudong and Machado are still Hawai’ian representation, and that Hawai’i is a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities. That being said, this controversy is already casting a pall over the Lilo & Stitch remake. These live-action Disney movies hinge on people’s affection for the original version—and that affection involves some very strong opinions about casting.

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