A Lesson in Acceptance from Lilo and Stitch

I saw the Disney movie Lilo and Stitch shortly after it came out. Other than it being an adorable film, there was one extremely powerful message I took from it. If you’ve seen the movie you may know what I’m talking about- the scene with Lilo’s photographs.

Early in the movie, Lilo, the titular little girl, is questioned by her older sister Nani about a display of photographs Lilo has taken that are taped to her bedroom wall. We see that the photos are all of people. Most, if not all, are fat, white tourists. If you know much about Hawaiian culture (which I did not and had to research a little before I wrote this to make sure I knew what I was talking about) you know that there is a culture of racism and anti-white sentiment that seems to permeate the little island, where tourists and foreigners are seen almost as invasive.

Nani’s reaction to the photos, namely barely contained disgust, is overshadowed by Lilo’s child-like naivety.

“Aren’t they beautiful?” she asks, a sense of wonderment in her voice.

Now, if you believe the internet, the whole idea of Lilo taking photos of tourists is a way for her to turn her “otherness” on its head. She feels ostracized because she is so different, because she is quirky and doesn’t fit in with the other girls and mostly because she has no parents. To cope with this, they say, she takes pictures of people who are more different than she and turns them into the other for her to gawk at and ostracize.

I don’t buy this story. Lilo is a little girl and she states, with utter sincerity, that the people in her photos are beautiful. I don’t know about you, but I find that most children her age (she’s probably about 7 or 8, I don’t know if the movie states her exact age) are not yet at the point where those little white lies are ready in the back pocket. Kids tend to be very honest about whether they think something is ugly and even when they are aware they could be hurting someone’s feelings (and remember, Lilo was talking to her sister here, none of the people in the photos would have any way of knowing what she thought of them, or probably even that she took the photos in the first place) they usually don’t have the skills necessary to lie on the spot like that.

Maybe Lilo was taking the pictures because she identified with the white tourists as being outsiders, but I don’t think at all that she was doing it to gawk. I just think that, despite what her culture and even her own sister were telling her, Lilo was still able to see the beauty in these people whom many others would consider “ugly”. She could see that just because they were so different didn’t mean they were ugly, and maybe the difference even added to their beauty.

We are such a diverse species and it’s such a shame that so many people can’t see the beauty in that. We’re at the point, at least where I am from, where interracial couples are (mostly) no longer seen as wrong. I can’t speak for every part of the US of course, but I know that in my town no one would bat an eye at a mixed race couple walking down the street. It took us a long time to get here but now that we are, I would venture to guess most people see the acceptance of interracial couples as a good thing.

My question is this: why can’t we learn from our mistakes, America? Why can’t we look at the historical institution of racism, declare stigmatization and prejudice a bad thing, and then apply that lesson to all other groups of people?? How hard can it be, knowing that racism is wrong, to then make the leap to realizing it’s wrong to oppress anyone? Why do we realize it’s bad to stereotype based on race, but then continue to do it based on size, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or anything else?

Please note that I am not by any means saying that racism has been abolished in the US. On an individual level it is absolutely still going strong even though things are getting better every day. I am simply saying that culturally, racism is seen as unacceptable but prejudice based on many other traits, most of which have to do entirely with how a person looks, are still employed and even condoned day after day after day.

If a little girl growing up in a culture of racism can look past skin color and see the beauty in each person, why can’t adults in a society where almost 1 in 10 people are not straight, where 60% of the population is “overweight”, look past these traits and see each individual’s beauty as well? I would argue that we absolutely can, that we are choosing not to and that needs to change.