@Stitch and David Kawena in ‘Lilo & Stitch’ (2002)
Disney has cast up-and-coming actor Kahiau Machado in the anticipated live-action remake of its acclaimed animated sci-fi comedy-drama, Lilo & Stitch. The newcomer is set to play David Kawena, Nani’s love interest and Lilo’s friend, The Hollywood Reporter is reporting.
Jason Scott Lee voiced David in Lilo & Stitch and the third film in the franchise, 2005’s Stitch Has a Glitch. Dee Bradley Baker voiced the character in the original movie’s first sequel, 2003’s Stitch! The Movie, and Lilo & Stitch: The Series.
The news of Machado’s casting as David comes after Disney announced that fellow newcomer, Maia Kealoha, will star as Lilo, and Sydney Elizebeth Agudong is playing Nani. Zach Galifianakis joined the film’s cast in February. Stitch, meanwhile, will be created through CG.
Dean Fleischer Camp, who made his feature film directorial debut on last year’s best animated feature Oscar nominee, Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, is helming the Lilo & Stitch remake. His upcoming live-action adaptation of the classic early 200s animated movie is expected to become a major release on Disney+.
Chris Kekaniokalani Bright wrote the script for the live-action adaptation. Dan Lin and Jonathan Eirich of Rideback are producing, and Rideback’s Ryan Halprin is executive producing, the upcoming film.
Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois wrote and directed the original Lilo & Stitch. The movie became a cult success upon its release in 2002, grossing over $273 million worldwide. It went on to become nominated for best animated feature at the 75th Academy Awards.
The Hawaii-set story of the animated Lilo & Stitch chronicles the bond formed between Lilo, a lonely human girl, and Stitch, a dog-like alien, who was genetically engineered to be a force of destruction. When nosy social workers and pursuing aliens arrive at their door, the two bond over a shared sense of family and win the day.
After it was announced that Lilo & Stitch will be adapted into a live-action feature, many fans of the original film were disappointed when Disney announced a biracial, light-skinned actor was cast as Nani, Lilo’s older sister. In the live-action adaptation, which is scheduled to be released next year, Nani will be played by 22-year-old Sydney Elizabeth Agudong, who is multiracial with Hawaiian ancestry.
Agudong’s casting contrasts the original animated movie. With the film featuring iconic Native Hawaiian roles, many of the characters were drawn with darker skin, black hair and ethnic features.
After Disney announced that Agudong was cast as Nani, fans noted on Twitter that the character “is Indigenous Hawaiian with strong features and dark skin, this casting is blatant colorism.” Many Native Hawaiian fans added that they were hoping for an actor whose features reflected those of the island’s Indigenous population.
“She’s probably a lovely woman but I can’t help but feel disappointed,” another Lilo & Stitch fan tweeted. “I wanted Nani to look like me.”
Nani’s reimagining in the story’s upcoming live-action adaptation parallels the controversy around the casting of Princess Jasmine in Disney’s 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin. The sultan’s daughter in the movie was played by Naomi Scott, a biracial British actor of Indian ancestry.
Audiences called her casting whitewashing of the original character. At the time of the animated film’s release in 1992, she was the only Disney princess with darker skin.
“Stop glorifying eurocentric beauty standards in the name of erasing characteristics and features,” another fan told Disney on Twitter. “Give darker skinned pacific islanders the visibility we deserve.”