‘Lilo’ Loses Her Way: Live-Action Colorism

‘Lilo’ Loses Her Way: Live-Action Colorism (Courtesy of Stephanie C. Ku’ulei Gable)

Disney, we need to have a long talk. Ever since the live-action “Cinderella” adaptation released in 2015, you’ve been hell-bent on turning each of their animated classics into live-action adaptations. 

This is no different than what you are doing with the “Lilo & Stitch” live action remake. The film, which is 20 years old, is about a young Hawaiian girl that makes friends with an escaped experimental alien, an homage to films like “Air Bud” and “Free Willy” with its satire of a human-animal companionship that also has shades of an old school creature feature. 

The film you made spawned a franchise with many direct-to-DVD sequels and even a Disney Channel original TV show that ran for two seasons with 65 episodes per your old rule, remember? 

Now, you want to make it a live-action feature? 

Sadly, I don’t think you even understand the message of your own film. First, the dark-skinned characters such as David and Nani, have been cast with actors Sydney Agudong and Kahiau Machado. While both have been Hawaiian residents, there has been lots of debate on Twitter on how colorist the casting for the film is, especially since the live action Lilo, Maria Kealoha, is a dark skinned Hawaiian. 

In order to get to more of a true grasp on the situation, I interviewed a Native Hawaiian, Stephanie C. Ku’ulei Gable, to get her thoughts on the situation. 

“I know a handful of people in my family that look like her. You can’t tell me that we aren’t out here.” Ku’ulei Gable said, “So that being said, if she’s not Hawaiian, she should not play a character that has themes of being Native Hawaiian throughout the entire storyline. So that’s one thing. So, now back to the other scenario in which she is Hawaiian. She’s still too light and again that wouldn’t take anything from her being Hawaiian, but society needs to understand that while we come in lighter colors, we also come in darker colors.” 

Again, Disney, it feels that you are catering to eurocentric features of beauty and ignoring the massive amounts of dark skinned Hawaiian actors that exist in Hollywood. 

Another topic of contention is that people believed that you were omitting the character Cobra Bubbles from the film with a new character called Mrs. Kekoa, a child services agent. During this time, people thought that Cobra was going to be left on the cutting room floor, until it was revealed that he will be played by Courtney B. Vance. It is unclear whether Cobra Bubbles will maintain his original role as a social worker or only keep him as a CIA operative by using Mrs. Kekoa as the social worker. 

Others believe that it is okay to change the color of the characters Nani and David because of how you have changed the races of iconic characters such as Ariel and Tinkerbell in their live action adaptations. The difference is that fairies and mermaids do not exist, as far as we know, and race was not integral or central to the plot as it was to the characters of Nani and David, being indigenous Hawaiians. 

You did one good thing, last month Kaipo Dudoit was recast as David due to Machado’s recently revealed racist comments. Many people are seeing this as a positive change due to Dudoit resembling the character better. 

With all these controversies about the film, I am surprised why you are still going ahead on it. 

For a movie with a theme of being different, not only an outcast in your group but also in your own people, it feels that you have decided to throw that idea away. Everyone deserves to be represented fairly and when you go for actors with lighter tones and eurocentric features, it feels that you’re more interested in making the film more palpable to white audiences. As a fan of you and your work, I hope that you can do better instead of throwing away their shots at meaningful representation. At a time where native Hawaiians are telling people to not come to the islands, I sincerely hope that you won’t make this film a two hour commercial for your Aulani resort in Hawaii. 

Zipporah “Zipp” Pruitt, (she/her) is an L.A. homegrown journalist, who covers entertainment and culture. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @zippzapps.

Edited by Nykeya Woods

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