Live action ‘Lilo and Stitch’ loses hype as controversies plague the film


Megan McKnight

Initial excitement surrounding the release of a new live action Lilo and Stitch continues to decline as Disney makes controversial casting choices and catastrophes continue to plague the film.

Megan McKnight, Copy Editor

Online controversy surrounding the casting of Disney’s new live action Lilo and Stitch is steadily growing as the company is being accused of erasing traditional Hawaiian culture from the film. Hype around the film has plummeted as people are accusing the creators of whitewashing the characters and hiring racially insensitive actors.

The controversy began when actress Sydney Agudong was cast as Nani, Lilo’s older sister, in the live action remake of the beloved movie. Despite the fact that Agudong was born and raised in Hawaii, she is mixed race, causing her skin tone to be much lighter than Nani’s is in the animated version. This has caused fans of the original movie to speak out, claiming that Disney is trying to whitewash the movie and erase the culture that is such an integral part of the film.

Not only does Agudong have a much lighter skin tone than Nani, but she also has traditional Caucasian facial features, such as a small nose and large eyes, whereas Nani has the traditional features of a native Hawaiian, with a larger nose and thinner eyes. 

The fact that Disney hired Agudong, a white passing person, to play Nani, who is undoubtedly dark skinned, has some arguing that the company is only reinforcing negative stereotypes surrounding cultural beauty standards. 

PV senior Abby Mulvania shares this belief that the casting for this film is problematic due to the cultural heritage surrounding the original movie. “I do think it’s important for the actors and actresses to have the original skin tone. Especially since a lot of young people will be watching it and it will be nice for people of that group to have that representation,” she said. 

This is not the only controversy surrounding the cast. Actor Kahaiu Machado was originally slated to play David, Nani’s love interest and a positive male role model for Lilo. Although fans had also complained that Machado’s skin tone was also too light to accurately represent David, a larger issue came to light when Disney uncovered social media posts using racial slurs. 

Machado used the N-word in both a Spotify playlist title and a Facebook post, with another post on Instagram comparing himself to Rosa Parks. After the posts were unearthed on Twitter, some argued that the posts were from a long time ago, and Machado should be given the benefit of the doubt. Despite this, Disney ended up cutting Machado from the cast and replacing him with Kaipot Dudoit, another native Hawaiian.

Fans are much happier with Dudoit in David’s role, as his skin tone is more authentic to the animation. Many are also pleased with the casting choice of Maia Kealoha, a six-year-old native Hawaiian, as Lilo. Although she has no previous screen experience, many fans agree that simply based off of her physical appearance, she is a perfect match for Lilo.

However, casting isn’t the only issue this movie has had so far. On the first day of filming, the Honolulu Fire Department had to be called regarding a suspected arson attack on the set. The fire was started on some brush under the trailer, but soon spread upwards into the trailer itself. Although nobody was injured, most of the material inside the trailer was damaged beyond repair, including several specialized costumes, pushing the filming schedule back by about a month.

Due to the amount of issues this new project has caused, it’s remarkable that Disney is still pushing forward with the project at all, especially given the lack of hype surrounding the film. Some fans are firmly against the live action remake being made at all, simply because it will never fulfill the high expectations set by the original. 

Mulvania also agrees that the live-action remakes have become almost repetitive. “I don’t really care about the movie coming out. I do think Disney is making too many live actions and I wish they would come out with something new because this is all stuff we’ve seen before,” she said.

It’s understandable that many fans are sick of live action remakes. With nine live action remakes of Disney classes having been released in the past five years, the anticipation surrounding these types of films is slowly dying down, and yet Disney continues to produce more live action films.  

All of these elements are culminating to create the perfect storm for Disney. From the racially insensitive casting to suspected arson, to a lack of interest, this movie has already run into many issues. Whether the movie will live up to the original remains to be seen, but Disney has a lot of catching up to do if they want this film to be a success.