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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Comments (7)

Wow, very informative. This makes me look at both Stephenie Meyer, the actors in Twilight films, and Hollywood very differently. Though it isn't a surprise this happened, I mean, when money is involved, even the most sacred of cultures gets thrown out the proverbial window.

Vanessa hudgens cast for native american female lead? *facepalm*

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Malory Beazley... Kind of sounds like a white women's name to me. So what right does she have to speak on this anyway? Thanks for looking out! I guess..

They all do it. You should have seen this weeks episode of the blacklist. New season 2016, episode two. They do the noble savage stereo type to a T. The native assassin who only kills when he has to, who doesn't fear death so he cant be tortured into giving up the info to Reddington.. so reddington tells him about the time that he witnessed some sacred ritual by that mans clan. Impossible says the man. Oh, I bought by way in says red. Then he convinces the man to tell him what he wants by threatening to kill and bury the man in a coffin without a hole in it... since you know, the spirit can not escape if there is not a hole in the coffin, which red knew from buying his way into the sacred ritual, which he makes less sacred by basically calling our people sell outs, and not actually spiritual but just superstitious, and naive. I love that show and they totally killed it for me with that episode!! :(

Are you Quileute? I think if the chamber of commerce with it, the tribe is alright with it, and you should be too.

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