WILL BE HERE
"If you listen
he silver elevator doors open and Auli’i Cravalho walks through. It’s an early morning in April and Cravalho is at her Pride cover shoot, her last stop on a week-long press tour in New York City for “Crush,” Hulu’s queer romantic comedy about two high school rivals who fall for each other. After the shoot—for which she cut two nails short on her right hand in honor of the LGBTQ+ community (“This is for the gays.”)—Cravalho has an immediate six-hour flight back home to Los Angeles. She’s dressed comfortably for the occasion: a gray oversized hoodie, matching sweatpants and a pair of fuzzy boots someone mistakes for Uggs. “These are mukluks. They’re indigenous Uggs,” she corrects them. “They’re waterproof. Uggs could never.”
Words are important to Cravalho. Her first name, Auli’i, means dainty, perfect and new shoot in Hawaiian. Her name is an inoa pō, a word that came to her mother in a dream before Cravalho was born that she was destined to be called by. Her last name, Cravalho, is a misspelling of the Portuguese name, Carvalho, a reminder of her family’s immigrant history. “My name carries so much meaning that when I leave my house, that’s what I’m striving for,” Cravalho says weeks later over a Zoom call from her apartment in Los Angeles. “I’m trying to live up to my name.”
Top & Skirt: Botan. Shoes: Manolo Blahnik. Necklaces: Bryan Anthonys, Lady Grey. Earrings: MeMe London. Rings: Bryan Anthonys, Common Era. Bracelets: Bryan Anthonys
Cravalho never dreamed of becoming an actor. As the only child of a single mother (her parents divorced when she was young), Cravalho lived on food stamps in a one-bedroom apartment with her mom in Oahu. Her mom slept on a couch, and they didn’t own a TV. Before that, the two shared a single bedroom in a family member’s home. When she was a freshman in high school, Cravalho and her friends made an audition tape to be the performers at a local nonprofit event. If they were chosen, they would receive extra credit in their glee class. Cravalho was never picked, but her tape was seen by the casting director of “Hawaii Five-0,” who reviewed the auditions. The director also happened to be casting for a new Disney movie named “Moana.” “She was like, ‘Hey, who’s that girl in the last row, second from the left?’” Cravalho recalls. “I was like, ‘Hi. That’s me. What’s up?’”
The director asked if she wanted to audition for “Moana,” an animated Disney film about the daughter of a Polynesian chief who embarks on an adventure to save her island from a volcanic monster. Though Cravalho sang in choir and had minor acting experience—she played Mrs. Clause in a fifth-grade play and portrayed a woman crying as Jesus was crucified in a church theater production—she never considered a career as a performer. “I was in molecular cell biology the summer I got the audition for ‘Moana,’” says Cravalho, who wanted to be a scientist. Still, she had nothing to lose. A few days later, she and her mom went to the “Hawaii Five-0” casting studio, where she read for her first audition for “Moana.” “I still have a picture at the studio,” she says. “I went to a mall beforehand to buy a new sweater.” The producers loved her and flew her to Burbank, California, where she was put up in a hotel that put her one-bedroom apartment to shame. “I was like, ‘Even if I don’t get the role, this is incredible. I’ve been to Hollywood,’” she says.
to people, you
will always want them
to have rights. "
Dress: Marc Jacobs. Shoes: YOOX. Necklaces: Bryan Anthonys, Lady Grey. Bracelets: Bryan Anthonys. Earrings: Celeste Starre. Rings: Lady Grey
Dress: Marc Jacobs. Shoes: YOOX. Necklaces: Bryan Anthonys, Lady Grey. Bracelets: Bryan Anthonys. Earrings: Celeste Starre. Rings: Lady Grey
Shego from “Kim Possible.”
MY FIRST CELEBRITY CRUSH:
“Katchi Katchi Music Makawao.”
Reach out more to the people around you.
THE ADVICE I'D GIVE TO MY YOUNGER SELF:
THE SONG THAT WILL ALWAYS MAKE ME DANCE:
“I really like it!” from “The Holiday.”
Poi! It’s delicious. It’s a starch. It’s like rice. Also if people don’t like rice, don’t come over to my house. I hate to tell you this, but if you don’t like rice, we’re not friends.
THE MOVIE OR TV SHOW QUOTE I SAY ALL THE TIME:
THE FOOD I LOVE THAT EVERYONE ELSE THINKS IS GROSS:
I am on the cusp of Sagittarius and Scorpio. I’m a Sagitarrius through and through and my moon is a Scorpio. I’m always so pensive and in thought. My rising is a Leo, and that checks out.
MY ZODIAC SIGN:
The crying emoji. Then the sparkles. I don’t know what that means.
MY MOST USED EMOJI:
Jacket, Shorts, Scarf & Sunglasses: Salvatore Ferragamo. Shoes: Roger Vivier. Necklaces, Earrings & Rings: Lady Grey
Soon after, Cravalho learned she was cast as Moana and became the voice of Disney’s first Polynesian protagonist. What came next is somewhat of a blur: She went on a worldwide press tour to London, Japan and Singapore. She performed at the Oscars with Lin-Manuel Miranda. She even won a Teen Choice Award, beating stars like Harry Styles and Zendaya, for the title of 2017’s Breakout Movie Star. “I truly didn’t know how large the world was outside of my small island,” Cravalho says. “Moana was a young Polynesian [woman] who wanted to go beyond the reef and I was the same.” A day after her Oscars performance, Cravalho was cast as the lead in “Rise,” a teen drama series created by “Friday Night Lights” showrunner Jason Katims. The show, which moved her from Hawaii to New York City, was canceled after one season. After it ended, Cravalho moved to Los Angeles, where she found her own apartment and adopted a black and white cat named Rocco. By then, the “Moana” phenomenon had calmed down, and as the dust settled, Cravalho found herself lost on what to do next. “I was really afraid I was a one-off,” she says. “Iconic to play Moana, but what are you supposed to do after that?” As a singer, voiceover work came naturally to her. “My mom says I’ve been a singer since birth because I was one of those colic babies who wouldn’t stop screaming, so I developed great lungs,” she says. What proved to be more difficult was her transition from animation to live action, and where she fit in Hollywood. “People didn’t know my face, and when casting did see my face, they’d say, ‘You’re racially ambiguous,’” Cravalho says. “I’m like, ‘That’s a new term. I’ve never heard that one before,’ which left me even more internally confused because my identity has always been Hawaiian.”
Cravalho—who is of native Hawaiian, Puerto Rican, Portuguese, Chinese and Irish descent—soon found herself being typecast based on how she looked rather than who she could play. “Suddenly, all of these phrases were thrust at me: ‘Well, you’re white-passing, but you’re also racially ambiguous, so you can play Latinx, you can play Asian, you can play all of these different things,’” Cravalho says. “I was like, ‘I just want to play smart women. The bar is there.’” Then came an audition for “The Power,” Amazon Prime Video’s upcoming drama series based on Naomi Alderman’s 2016 book about a world where women have the power to electrocute anyone with the tip of their fingers. “It explores how power structures change when women have an inherent strength over men,” Cravalho says. Her audition—which was to play Jos Cleary-Lopez, a teenager who awakens the power in her mother—came around the time Cravalho was living with a now-ex-boyfriend, a relationship that made “The Power” that much more relevant. “I was in a relationship that made me really sad, and I was trying to find my own inner strength and that was what I was trying to channel through Jos,” Cravalho says. “I put my whole dabussy in that audition, and I got it.” Though “The Power” is fiction, Cravalho is aware of the real-world similarities between the story and current events, including the Supreme Court’s recent draft to overturn Roe v. Wade and illegalize abortion. “The story has just gotten more and more relevant,” she says. “The strange need for men to have a say in what women can or can’t do with their bodies really boils my blood.”
But “The Power” isn’t Cravalho’s only role to mirror real life. In April, she starred in “Crush,” Hulu’s queer teen rom-com. Cravalho plays AJ, a bisexual track captain whose disdain for her team member, Paige (who has a crush on AJ’s twin sister Gabriela), brings them closer together. Cravalho was first asked to audition for Paige, but after reading the script, she was immediately drawn to AJ. “AJ exists in this beautiful utopia where people are queer until proven straight,” she says. “It’s not something that is out of the norm or needs to be screamed from the rooftops.” AJ is also Cravalho’s first out queer character since she publicly came out as bisexual on TikTok in April 2020. Cravalho didn’t plan to come out that day. It was the height of the pandemic, and she had just moved back in with her mom. It was 3 a.m., and she was bored on the couch when she decided to post her first-ever TikTok of her lip-syncing to Eminem‘s “Those Kinda Nights” as her mom snored in the background. “Seriously though, jokes aside, how you doin’? You straight? / She said, ‘No, I’m bi,'” Cravalho lip-synced. Cravalho posted the TikTok and didn’t expect anyone to find it. Before she knew it, she was trending. “People picked it up, and it became this big thing I had no control over,” says Cravalho, who deleted her TikTok account after she went viral. “For a few weeks, it was just my face on the internet saying, ‘She likes girls!’” She groans. “That’s mine. That’s my identity. I didn’t need the whole world to do that.” With the aftermath, however, also came a welcome into the LGBTQIA+ community she didn’t expect. “Gay Twitter suddenly had my back,” Cravalho says. “They were like, ‘Moana is a fruit cup!’ That’s so funny because that’s my identity. It’s true that in any role I take, I’m going to add my zest, my fruitiness.”
Cravalho never had the sex talk with her parents. When she was younger, she used to make her Barbies kiss, and one of her first introductions to queerness was an aunt who broke off an engagement to a man and married a woman. “She buried the ring and then married a woman. When he asked for the ring back, she sent it to him with dirt in an envelope,” Cravalho says. “That was my first indication of a boss.” Other than that, everything Cravalho learned about sexuality was from her own research, reading forums and taking online quizzes to determine what percentage gay she was. While she didn’t need to come out to her classmates in school (“People were just like, ‘She’s not straight,’” she jokes), Cravalho’s sexuality also wasn’t something she openly discussed. “I wouldn’t hold hands with my girlfriend in high school. I would walk next to her. We would walk each other to class, but it wasn’t something we would allow anyone ammunition for,” Cravalho says. “But that’s also how I was with—” She stops herself. “No, that’s a lie. That only happened with queer relationships,” she says. “With a boyfriend, I would have no problem holding their hand. Being stared at isn’t nearly as fun as it is in the movies.”
Cravalho’s sexuality, though something she’s never had shame about, is a part of her she’s always kept private. So private that even her mom didn’t know she was bisexual until her TikTok. “We had a large conversation,” Cravalho says. “She was like, ‘Well, what does it mean? Why do you need to put a label on yourself? How do you know what you are?’” Cravalho tried to explain her sexuality to her mom through analogies before she summed it up in a sentence that clicked. “I was like, ‘It’s a feeling. If you love me, you will support me and you’ll want me to feel listened to,’” Cravalho says. “She was like, ‘OK. I get it.’ A switch flipped in her brain and she was like, ‘If the question is: Do I still love you? Do I support you?’ The answer is yes.” Bisexuality hasn’t been easy to explain to everyone, however. “I’ve absolutely experienced bi erasure in my life,” she says. “My friends would be like, ‘Yeah, well, you’re not really bi. That’s not going to last. This is a fling.’ I’ve also worked with people who are biphobic, which is unfortunate. What I’ve learned through all of those experiences is my identity is my own. Who I love is wholly my decision. No one can take that away from me.” For Cravalho, her sexuality isn’t defined by gender but who she loves. “I love love,” she says. “I love giving love. It doesn’t matter to me the gender of the person, as long as they can love me wholly back.”
Though she keeps her personal life private, Cravalho is outspoken when it comes to corporations she thinks need to do better for the LGBTQ+ community, including her first home at Disney. In an April interview with IndieWire, Cravalho called for Disney to take a stronger stance against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill—denounced by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill—which prohibits discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. After the interview, Cravalho received an email from a publicist she’d worked with at Disney with information on how the corporation is doing better, which she appreciated. “If you listen to people, you will always want them to have rights, to have access to healthcare and to not be berated by lawmakers on what they can and can’t do with their bodies, where they can or cannot use the restroom, or whether they can live their life in the pursuit of happiness,” she says. “That is a God-given right.”
"I just want to
The bar is there."
play smart women.
Cravalho still has a relationship with Disney. Next year, fans hope to see her reprise her role as Moana in Disney Plus’ “Moana: The Series,” an upcoming TV adaptation that picks up after the events of the 2016 film. While fans have long called for Disney to introduce its first queer princess, Cravalho doesn’t believe that Moana—who is the first Disney princess to not have a love interest—is the right vessel to tell that story. “I do think we need more queer representation in Disney films. I would love to lend my voice to that,” she says. “Moana is a character that so many people relate to in her strength and in her courageousness. To have her storyline not be centered around a love interest, she’s already the first for that, and I almost think that’s a more important narrative to tell.”
Late morning sunlight reflects against Auli’i Cravalho’s wide-rimmed glasses as she joins a video call from her apartment in Los Angeles. Dressed in a beaded choker and a brown tank top that shows off her upper arm tattoo, Cravalho is nestled against a blank white wall in her living room—the same blank white wall she’s projected a long list of classic films on that she never saw while growing up in Hawaii but made a promise to watch after her sudden career in Hollywood. The blank white wall is also where Cravalho has slated her name and height—Auli’i Cravalho, 5’3”—hundreds of times for self tapes and auditions. To avoid mispronunciations, Cravalho’s manager will send an old video to almost everyone she meets of Cravalho teaching her “Moana” co-star, Dwayne Johnson, how to pronounce her name. “It’s ‘ow’ like you stub your toe, ‘lee’ like Bruce Lee, and then you add another ‘e,’” Cravalho says in the video. It’s been five years since she filmed the video, but people still mispronounce her name. “Our names are our identity,” she says. Cravalho has heard dozens of butchered pronunciations, but there’s one mispronunciation she won’t accept. “At the end of the day, I don’t want to be called Aioli,” she says. “That’s the worst!” However, that doesn’t mean she’s fine with other mispronunciations either. “This is a language. My name means something,” she says. “Do I hope people will expand their knowledge of language? Sure. Is it realistic? Not in Hollywood.”
Still, Cravalho has some hope. She looks at stars like Beyoncé, Lupita Nyong’o and Thandiwe Newton as evidence she doesn’t need to water down her name for the white man. One day, Hollywood will meet her where she is. Until then, she has that video. “Until I become a household name like Beyoncé, I will kindly correct people,” she says. “No one mispronounces Beyoncé's name.” She pauses. “I just gotta work my way up.”
THE PRIDE ISSUE
Photographer: George Chinsee
Stylist: Amanda Lim for The Only Agency
Makeup Artist: Chelsea Gehr for Exclusive Artists
Hairstylist: Brittan White for Exclusive Artists
Stylist Assistant: Mia Navarro
Makes a Name For Herself
By Jason Pham
Set: Patou. Shoes: Roger Vivier. Earrings & Bracelet: Patou. Rings: Alice Pierre