The Issue of Native (Mis)Representation in Twilight

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , , | Posted on 11:46 AM

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"So do you think we're a bunch of superstitious natives or what?" 
~ Jacob Black in Twilight

You’ve all heard about the conflict between vampires and werewolves in Twilight.  But, unless you’ve read the books or seen the movies, you might not be aware that the Wolf Pack is actually associated with the Quileute tribe of Native Americans.  Yes, the Quileute are a real people, whose native reservation occupies one square mile in La Push, Washington.  Stephenie Meyer’s storybook world of Twilight has Bella visiting Jacob Black on the La Push reservation for about 40% of the series (by my own estimation).  With all of this page and screen time devoted to ‘representing’ native culture and their community, you would think that the Hollywood and media machines would get a few things wrong.  Well, surprise surprise, they have.

In January 2010, MSN.com, while videotaping a Twilight virtual tour news-piece, infringed upon the native Quileute territory without permission by disrupting some ancient graves of esteemed tribal leaders.  Interestingly enough, the producers also filmed in the actual town of Forks, but this time they had the courtesy to actually ask the Chamber of Commerce if it was okay.  MSN.com has since apologized to the Quileute nation for trespassing uninvitedly on their land.

I have said it before and I will say it again: Western societies that are largely based upon colonial attitudes (and white privilege) seem to only ‘make space’ for Native-Americans (or Canadians, for that matter) when their culture is romanticized enough to be put on display (e.g. for hungry Twilight fans).  The Quileute are almost entirely excluded from any of the benefits that stem from the commercial cash cow that is the Twilight franchise, which is remarkable since their culture and people occupy an integral part of the infamous story world.  Every single day, busloads of rabid Twilight fans are taken onto the Quileute reservation (with no permission) for tours of the 'Twilight tribe', however the Quileute Nation does not receive any sort of compensation for this encroachment.  Meanwhile, half of Quileute families are currently living in poverty.  What adds a whole other dimension to this issue is that American copyright laws do not apply to indigenous peoples; in other words, in the eyes of money-making corporations, the Quileute’s stuff is up for grabs.  The Quileute Nation claims they were never contacted about the use of their traditional and cultural artefacts for merchandising purposes.

Another issue of representation occurs within the film itself.  The film franchise has claimed to have taken a “monumental step” in its casting of Native American actors and is therefore simultaneously acting to combat native misrepresentation by “shed[ding] many of the previous Hollywood stereotypes concerning indigenous tribes.”  However, there is controversy in the fact that the actors hired to play the roles of the Wolf Pack (Jacob Black, Sam Uley, Leah Clearwater, etc.) only discovered their native roots after they were cast.

Most controversial of all is the fact that young actor Taylor Lautner (who plays Jacob Black) has been appointed the poster boy of teenaged native heartthrobs.  And guess what?  He ain’t Native... (although his mother apparently has some ‘distant blood’ in her family lineage).

In a 2008 interview at ComicCon, Taylor Lautner discussed his first and only meeting with the actual Quileute tribe: “I was expecting something so much different than me, but the real thing is that [the Quileute] are just like me.”  Check out this video to see him talk about how Jacob Black’s “Native American side is very friendly and outgoing” but his “werewolf side is very fierce” (he also says that he “loves the contrast between the Native American side and the werewolf side”).  Yeesh.  Despite all of the controversy, the film is being heralded for “giving each [native] character their own personalities and traits” (as opposed to them all being the same?) and for “making it cool to embrace one’s indigenous roots.”

The cultural appropriation of indigenous peoples in North American society is an issue.  Despite this, the Native American cast of Twilight (and Justin Chon thrown in there: not Native…Korean) appears in the follow PSA for Shift the Power to the People, a sustainability group that encourages you to “be the shift” and empower people to make lasting and sustainable changes in their own communities.  Their current struggle (as of February 1, 2010) is to raise awareness about the severe ice storm that devastated the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe reservation.

Perhaps Twilight has brought an increasing level of awareness to Native American issues, but the way it has come about is deplorable.



p.s. And now for something completely different (and disturbing): Manllows!

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When it Comes to 3D Film, How Far is Too Far?

Posted by Malory Beazley | Posted in , , , | Posted on 12:48 PM

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The enormous success of Avatar has arguably sparked the mainstreaming process of 3D filmmaking.  With this success, however, comes the inevitable question: how far is too far?  As the release date for the third installment in the Twilight franchise, Eclipse, draws nearer, the anticipation of the shooting of the final film, Breaking Dawn, is on every Twihard’s mind.  The highly controversial novel is set to begin its filmic transformation this coming fall, however, Summit Entertainment still hasn’t chosen a director, decided whether to split the movie into two parts, or confirmed whether or not it will be filmed in 3D.

While it might not sound too controversial right now, for anyone who has read the 700-page clusterfuck of a novel, the idea of bringing it to the big screen triggers some mixed feelings.  Let’s just say (and SPOILER ALERT) that no one wants to see Bella Swan give a violent birth to a bloody half-baby-half-vampire spawn that eats its way out of her stomach in some sort of reverse C-section, moreover, in 3D.  The idea is no less than revolting.

The cast of Twilight isn’t exactly onboard with the possibility of 3D either.  Kristen Stewart, who will be the one giving birth in the movie, told MTV, “No, I don’t think that should be [in 3D] … You don’t want Renesmee [the baby] to be scary.  You don’t want her to fly into your face.”  In addition to Stewart’s disapproval, heartthrob Robert Pattinson, the film’s Edward Cullen, says, “The 3D thing confuses me.  I haven’t seen Avatar or any of these 3D movie things yet.  The idea of it… I remember 3D movies from when I was a kid, and I can just picture it giving me a headache.”  Based on the well-attested fact that Twihards blindly follow the opinions of the actors they unrelentingly admire, it wouldn’t surprise me if a gigantic uprising of tweens will have Summit Entertainment shaking in their boots come decision time.  Then again, Summit also knows that fans will go see the film regardless of the decisions (including 3D) that are ultimately made:

“The pluses are obvious. […] The downside? The fans. Some are already begging Summit not to do it. But it’s highly unlikely that any will pass up the chance to watch the last few final strains of this teenage vampire-human-wolfman soap opera. Even if they decided to film it with puppets.”

Other possible obstacles for Summit Entertainment is the fact that the cast isn’t yet signed on for what could be Breaking Dawn – Part 2, and also author Stephenie Meyer’s contractual control over the story, casting, director, etc.

I personally feel that 3D technologies in films should be used sparingly, and in films (like Avatar) that actually warrant the visual effect enhancement.  Only time will tell if fans gets to see a bloody CGI baby bursting out of Bella’s stomach and into the audience.  Yuck.

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