The Imaginary Heroine

searching for the plot

First Nations Representation and the Twilight Franchise March 13, 2010

I thought I’d follow up my last post with some miscellaneous links/notes regarding the tumultuous relationship between the Twilight franchise and the Native American community. It’s not a topic that I’m particularly adept at discussing, but here are some of the issues and sources I’ve found interesting:

Interesting how the Native characters in Twilight are always mostly naked while Edward and his family are very buttoned up. Are non-white bodies more accepted as sexual objects? Discuss...

This post from Racialicious dissects some of the racial stereotypes in Meyer’s depiction of the Quileutes. The sections on exoticism and sexualization of non-whites and equating Indigenous Peoples with the animalistic are particularly interesting. It’s something I’d like to return to in the future, but I feel like my competence with the subject matter is too limited at the moment. I welcome links and book/article recommendations on similar topics.

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I'm so glad I'm not a child celebrity. The interwebz has only limited amounts of my youthful exploits, thank goodness.

Questions have been raised about Taylor Lautner’s Native American status. Whether he has Native ancestors or not, it’s clear that he was not raised in any Native American tradition. A serious scandal surrounds Tinsel Korey (aka Harsha Patel?), who plays Emily Young in New Moon and Eclipse. That these issues haven’t been widely discussed seems kind of odd. The Twilight franchise has a rabid fan base demanding up to date info nownownow. You’d think news outlets would be hopping all over it. Unfortunately, it may be ignored simply because it’s a First Nations issue. Non-Native American readers are probably more interested in Lautner’s abs than whether he or Korey are authentic representatives of Native populations.

I’m torn on whether or not it’s necessary for actors to be actual members of specific groups in order to play one in a movie. Their job is to pretend and convince us to willingly suspend disbelief for a few hours. Demanding utter authenticity from your actors, especially when they’re playing vampires and werewolves, kind of defeats the point of acting and verges on silly.

However, the history of casting is littered with offensively slipshod and/or racist representations, from replacing non-white characters with whites (whites are clearly the neutral, non-ethnic race, donchaknow? /sarcasm) to employing a tiny handful of Indian and Arab actors and using them interchangeably – as if the vast array of ethnic mixtures from North Africa, the Middle East, and South Central Asia were all the same.

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Here’s a post from an amazing blog that explores Indigenous peoples in children’s literature. The author, Debbie Reese, offers her own critical perspectives on the Twilight saga, but I especially appreciated this post on actual Quileutes willing to share the true traditions of the tribe.

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Ahem problematic heritage hijacking. Ahem.

Meyer’s appropriation of Quileute name, land, and tradition is really a very sensitive issue. She has personally gained quite a bit from the association. The fallout, as indicated in the above links, is mixed for the actual Quileute people. Will Twilight tourism pump some money into the economically depressed reservation? Do the Quileute even want the attention in the first place if all they get is a bunch of tittering teens interrupting their talks on deeply-held spiritual beliefs with questions about whether they have any brothers and are any of them werewolves?

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Again, this is all fairly new to me, so I don’t have an official stance on any of these topics other than to say that I would love to learn more about each of them.

 

A New Dawn part 5: “Dancing with Wolves” by Linda Gerber March 12, 2010

[Part of a series discussing the essays in A New Dawn edited by Ellen Hopkins. These posts may contain spoilers about all four Twilight novels and Midnight Sun.]

I liked Gerber immediately, since she began her essay by confessing her membership to Team Jacob. If this blog had wider readership, I would probably start getting hateful comments right about now. Let me just reassure my dear friends on Team Edward, I think Bella and Edward were clearly destined for each other for all eternity, etc, etc, ad infinitum…ad nauseum… I just like ’em tall, dark, warm-hearted, and warm-blooded, I guess.

Now that that’s out of the way, lets talk about wolves. “Dancing with Wolves” discusses the ubiquity of wolves in the legends of cultures around the globe. From the number and variety of legends named by Gerber, the humans affinity for wolves is patently obvious. The author quotes Daniel Wood’s book Wolves, saying “these animals are “mirrors, reflecting the proximity of the primitive in human nature,” and adds a number of examples of how wolf and human social structure are similar.

The essay then discusses the prevalence in Native American legends, in particular those of the Quileute tribe, and how they relate to wolf imagery in the Twilight Saga. The legends that Jacob tells Bella at First Beach in Twilight are all authentic Quileute legends with the exception of the story about “the cold ones.” Originally, Jacob and his werewolf brethren played a much smaller role in the saga. It was only when Little Brown offered Meyer a preemptive multi-book deal, that she added the werewolf/shapeshifter embellishment upon the Quileute wolf legends in order to create the Bella-Edward-Jacob triangle.

Gerber discusses some wolfy themes that permeate Jacob and the other Quileute’s character development. Two of the most common associations with werewolves are puberty/coming of age and good/evil or evolved/primitive man duality.

Jacob, like most teenage boys, has a crisis of identity when his body begins to change. These emotions are enhanced by the werewolf metaphor. A teens body turns against them and they become a kind of half-and-half monster. Gerber points out that calling on wolves is an integral aspect of some coming of age rituals among tribes in the Olympic peninsula, which parallels the formation of the Twilight wolfpack, if not quite as literally.

Another common werewolf theme deals with good vs. evil duality. Sometimes it’s presented as evolved vs. primitive duality as well. The explosion of a human into a monstrous wolf represents an escape of either the evil or primitive, Id-like nature inherent in human beings. This jives with a Cherokee legend related by Gerber that tells of a battle between two wolves that goes on inside us at all times. One wolf is good, while the other is evil. It is up to us to chose which wolf will win and guide our conduct.

Initially, Jacob and several of the other pack members resent their destiny. They reluctantly take on the burden of being Protectors, but they are unhappy the proximity of the Cullens has robbed them of their fully human identities. Jacob settles uneasily into his new form, but he still rejects his full destiny. He refuses to be Alpha and clings to Bella, urging her to forget Edward and chose him instead.

Gerber likens Jacob’s character trajectory to that of a Spirit Journey, he “has to let go of who he thought he was so he can become who he is meant to be.” When Bella and Edward marry, Jacob attempts to avoid what is admittedly a pretty tough destiny by sinking into his wolf form and running away. It’s not until Jacob returns, claims his rightful place as Alpha, and fights beside the Cullens to protect Bella and her baby that he walks his true path. In the end, Jacob is rewarded by imprinting on Edward and Bella’s half-breed daughter, Nessie.

While this essay focused on the wolf/human connection and the ways in which Meyer’s Quileute werewolves help us to explore various philosophical themes, there was really no discussion of how the Twilight Saga has affected the real Quileutes or the reception of Twilight in other First Nations groups. It’s not a snark, since Gerber doesn’t claim to do that. She very specifically sets out to talk about wolves in Twilight, not Native Americans in Twilight. Hopefully I can come up with more on this issue later.