On Thursday 13 April 2023, The Hollywood Reporter confirmed that Disney had found its live-action Nani, Lilo’s older sister, in Hawaiian actress Sydney Agudong for the upcoming Lilo & Stitch remake, set to come out in 2024.
In no time, the casting announcement sparked debate online over whitewashing and colourism in the entertainment industry. Despite the fact that Agudong, 22, was born and raised on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, Twitter users who belong to Indigenous communities felt as though she didn’t accurately reflect how the character looked in the original 2002 animation, with darker skin, black hair, and ethnic features.
One critic of the casting explained: “Not being Indigenous or from a PoC community, it may not be easy to see a problem with this casting, but within our communities this is a big issue. Nani is Indigenous Hawaiian with strong features and dark skin, this casting is blatant colourism.”
Netizens also accused Disney of pandering to Eurocentric beauty standards and of a missed opportunity to showcase proper representation of dark-skinned Pacific Islanders. And it’s not the first time the entertainment conglomerate faces criticism over casting decisions for live-action remakes either.
Back in 2019, Disney was accused of whitewashing after it announced that Naomi Scott—a biracial British actor of Indian ancestry—would play Princess Jasmine in its live-action remake of Aladdin. The original character was the only Disney princess with darker skin at the time of the animated film’s release in 1992.
On the other hand, Disney also ended up in the firing line of disgruntled bigots for following the recent practice of colour-blind casting, meaning casting without considering an actor’s ethnicity or race, to some of its latest remakes.
Most recently, fans debated the casting choice for Ariel in the live-action The Little Mermaid. Speaking to The Face, actress Halle Bailey, who plays Ariel, spoke about her reaction to racist comments she had received after being cast: “As a Black person, you just expect it and it’s not really a shock anymore.”
In March, Disney revealed that newcomer Maia Kealoha will star as Lilo in the upcoming film. Billy Magnussen and Zach Galifianakis are also set to star in the live-action remake. Stitch, naturally, will be a computer graphics (CG) creation.