July 13, 2008

Non-Native cast as Quileute werewolf

An article in the Peninsula Daily News apparently was the first to reveal a key casting decision in the upcoming movie Twilight.

'Twilight' to film one or two days in LaPushOne of the critical scenes involves a Quileute teen, Jacob Black, telling Bella of the legends of "the cold ones" or vampires—thus exposing Edward as a vampire.

The teen actor set to play Jacob is Taylor Lautner, who recently starred in "The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl."


The fans were quick to react to this news:

Taylor Lautner is Jacob Black!
  • I’m a bit disappointed that they didn’t find a Native American but I was very impressed with the video on YouTube of this boy’s martial arts abilities.

  • okie ppl need to stop saying “oh…im soo mad they didnt get a Native American as jacob…” well, seriously, they probably didnt find anyone that was good enough, that was native american for the part. so of course they went for the next best thing..which was taylor lautner.

  • I don’t think people get why Taylor not being native is insulting to is that actually are. We finally get a move that makes Natives (first nation guys) look cool and breaks the stereotypes that the only movies we can do are westerns where we are either killing some poor family or dying from the blankets we received from the government. So to have a non-native casted as a Native role? That is an insult in a sense. If a girl of native, hispanic, african-american or asian descent was casted as Bella than people would riot! Yet we are supposed to be happy they found a guy who looks to have dark skin and hair?

  • The auditions were held in Oregon, quite a bit away from the reservations where the bulk of the Native American community has been banished by the U.S. government. I seriously doubt the production stopped to wonder if the real Native Americans of this country could AFFORD to fly/drive all the way to Oregon, just for a large possibility of being turned away. (Maybe they missed the memo that most of the economies suck down there…)

    I may not be full-blooded, but I know a Native when I see one, and honestly, Taylor Lautner looks like an English American mutt who just happens to be brown. Sorry if that offends anyone.

    Maria, thank you for explaining. Honestly, I feel that if an Asian or African American had been casted as Bella, the Caucasian community would have freaked out. Native Americans are a serious minority in this country, and when a big role comes along in which the actor is supposed to be Native American, and ends up not being so, it’s a huge insult to our community.

  • Well, here am, going against the grain. I am full blooded NA and it doesn’t bother me that he isn’t actually native. It is the idea that they are Native. There aren’t many Natives in Hollywood….the main one being Adam Beach (and there as heck is no way that he will be Jacob). I see Steven Strait playing this role and he isn’t Native. Big fricken deal…I am not insulted by this at all. I saw pictures with his wig on and I think things will be fine. Don’t get your nose bent out of shape until you can point out some people who are better. Meyers said she only wanted actors to play the roles…no singers, models, etc… And perferably actors who are not “newbies”…so what can ya do? Again, I don’t think it is a big deal.

  • Having a non Native American playing a Native American role really is insulting. I’m not Native American and one of my good friends a Native American and she could tell that he wasn’t.

    I also understand the whole holding auditions away from the reservations but then they should have held them closer to the reservations. To me, that is kinda saying that they don’t really care if that get a true NA or a fake one.

  • and yea, they really could’ve pulled off an actual native american here (almost forgot to rant about that!). who the f— was the casting director? they probably havent even read the books.

  • i think he’ll do a good job with that face. and don’t forget, he’s wearing a wig which makes him look really native.

  • They actually are making good choices and I think this guy wil be great in the role. Him being or not being Native American has nothing to do with why people want to see the movie. Most people I know could care less about that kind of stuff.

  • ok people who are angry about them not casting jacob as a native american i respect that but, you have to understand that there aren’t alot of native american actors and i’m sorry this has to be said (I AM SOOO NOT RACIST, I DID A PROJECT ON IT) most natives are currently to busy drinking, or trying to get there land back and getting their land back is more important than a movie…………..BELLA AND EDWARD 4EVER!!!!(couldn’t resist hehe)

  • Taylor Lautner IS Native American…. Do your research.
    What difference does his ethnicity make, as long as he fits his role and doesn’t insult the culture in any way?

  • Well, i agree… It’s not fare that a non-Native american is playing this roll.. i have nothing against Lautner, but…. seriously… He is not a NA….
    When i read the book i imagined a gorgeous NA with long black hair…
    *sighs*
  • Comment:  You gotta love all the stereotypes in these comments. There are no Native actors who could play a Quileute teenager. Any Native actor would be a "newbie." They're all too busy getting drunk or fighting for their land. They all have long, black hair.

    Of course, the original character--6'7" with a ponytail--also sounds a bit stereotypical. In terms of height and hairstyle, Lautner is much more typical than the fictional Jacob, who sounds like someone's dream of a Native hunk.

    A note to the person who said "I AM SOOO NOT RACIST, I DID A PROJECT ON IT": I don't care if you're a full-blooded Indian. Your statement is sooo racist.

    "Do your research"

    So what's the story about Lautner's ancestry? Is he or isn't he part Native?

    A Google search reveals that everyone who claims he's Native has referred to his Wikipedia entry. Since people can edit Wikipedia, I don't know what it used to say. But at present it says nothing about his ancestry. All it does is link to a Native actors page, which links back to the Lautner page. That's not exactly conclusive evidence.

    Someone referred to an MTV interview that Lautner did. Here's part of it:In the “Twilight” novels, Jacob Black is a 6’ 7”, newly 16-year-old of Native American descent who spends equal time consumed by his love for Bella and his newfound power to transform into a werewolf. In real life, Taylor Lautner is a 5’ 9”, newly 16-year-old who recently discovered his own Native American heritage and is spending equal time learning to drive and developing the look for his new movie. “The wig is very interesting,” Lautner told us Friday when we caught up with him on the Portland, Oregon, set of “Twilight.” “I’m definitely going to have to get used to it.”

    Lautner, who told us that some recent research into his family history revealed that he shares Jacob’s Native American ancestry, arrived in Portland last week to spend some time behind the wheel of a “Twilight” vehicle and assure filmmakers he’d be OK to drive on camera with his newly received license. He was also eager to slip into his character—although his new costume did leave him scratching his head.
    So this kid had zero exposure to or knowledge of his alleged ancestry when he was growing up. Nor does he seem to care about it now. Being Native isn't as cool as getting a driver's license.

    This genealogical find seems a little too convenient to me. Here's what I think happened. When it became clear people were going to protest his casting, someone dug up some "Natives" (I use the term advisedly) in his family tree.

    So who are Lautner's Native ancestors? Are they even remotely connected to the Indians of the Pacific Northwest? Anyone want to bet he discovered his great-great grandmother was a Cherokee princess?

    No, wait...I know. He has a Latino in his background, and Latinos are part Native, so that makes him part Native. Just ask Robert "Chakotay" Beltran if you don't believe me.

    Without anything resembling evidence, Lautner's Native claims are dubious at best. And even if he has a Native ancestor, that doesn't make him Native. Unless he has strong cultural or biological ties to tribal people, he's just a non-Native with a drop of Native blood.

    Final answer

    Let's sum it up. Lautner doesn't look remotely like the character Jacob. He doesn't look remotely like an Indian. His biggest role to date is a juvenile hero named Sharkboy.

    Raise your hands: How many think Lautner was cast because he's part Native and has the depth and background to play a Native character? And how many think he was cast because he's "cute" and "hot" and "awesome"?

    I'm going to go with the person who said:We finally get a move that makes Natives (first nation guys) look cool and breaks the stereotypes that the only movies we can do are westerns where we are either killing some poor family or dying from the blankets we received from the government. So to have a non-native casted as a Native role? That is an insult in a sense.Yes, it's insulting in a sense. It's also unfair, discriminatory, and racist in a sense. You know, the sense that says Anthony Quinn, Rock Hudson, and Audrey Hepburn are all close enough to play an Indian. The sense that says Indians are the same as non-Indians with brown skin and a wig.

    Yeah, that's the racist Hollywood sense that makes Lautner the best choice to play Jacob Black.

    For more on the subject, see our past discussions about who's an Indian. Also see The Best Indian Movies and The Best Indian Books.

    Below:  "I'm an Indian warrior! I don't have a shirt on!"

    25 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    hes hot !

    Rob said...

    Thanks for your deep thoughts on Lautner's suitability to play a Native character.

    kaypgirl said...

    And the hilarious thing is, is that the guy who plays Embry was originally cast as Jacob. His acting experience is probably less, but he at least looks native, if he isn't part native. I only saw a twilight lexicon video on youtube of a casual interview they had with the guys who play Sam (perfect for the role and totally into it, is even learning Quileute) and Embry, so I don't know if Embry is native or not. And if you watch the video, Solomon (Sam) mentions something about Tyler doing some research into the Quileute history, so at least he's serious about the role.
    And although I was rather disappointed with the casting of Jacob, it's not surprising considering some of the other casting that was made. The girl who plays Rosalie (vampire, blond) has played Latino before (Lords of Dogtown, at least I think she was Latino in that movie) and is actually of Jewish, Italian and Cherokee Native American descent (she would have been a great Leah, a female werewolf from the second book). But from what I've seen, she has great chemistry with her on-screen boyfriend/husband/vampire-mate, so maybe the casting isn't so bad after all.

    Shire In The City said...

    Funny you mention traditional roles. Robert Downey Jr. is playing a black man (FROM AUSTRALIA, the studio trumpets) in Tropic Thunder. I'm pretty sure there were legions of actors of color who could have gotten that done. I'm reserving judgement, but I'm not going to pretend he doesn't creep me out. Hard.

    P. A. Medley said...

    Considering that this is based off of Stephanie Meyers's wish-fulfillment fantasy where vampires sparkle, I wouldn't get too riled up about it. The fans of the books (read as: pre-teen girls) wouldn't care and probably can't spell Quileute, so the production team didn't feel like they had to care, either. After all, Hollywood is about the bottom line, and doing more than you have to is a bit silly to them.

    You might be interested to know that Jacob Black "imprints" on a newborn half-vampire baby that ate its way out of its mother's womb. Meaning, that child is his mate. He is creepily attached to her as she grows up... I don't know. I respect that you're mad about this, but I don't understand why any self-respecting Quileute steeped in tradition and folklore would want to portray this character at all, unless his little sister liked the books.

    However, I'm a white mutt, so my perspective is probably not empathic.

    Rob said...

    To Shire in the City: Robert Downey Jr. doesn't exactly play a black man in Tropic Thunder. Rather, he plays a serious white actor who portrays a black man in the movie within the movie.

    Brandon T. Jackson is a black actor who plays a black actor in the film. He comments on the authenticity of the Downey character's portrayal of a black man.

    Downey's portrayal raised a red flag among critics, though many say he ultimately acquitted himself. Will Taylor Lautner's portrayal of Jacob the Quileute werewolf also raise a red flag?

    I doubt it. I wouldn't be surprised if the Twilight movie eliminated Jacob's Indian background and made him a generic werewolf.

    Rob said...

    To P.A. Medley: I wrote about Jacob's imprinting on the half-vampire girl-child in Jacob Black's Final Fate. Check it out.

    P.S. I don't get mad about these things. I get even by ridiculing them in public. ;-)

    Roger said...

    Taylor Lautner does not look white. He has brown skin, dark eyes, almond shaped eyes, and a nose that is not typical of most Europeans.

    Saying that the guy is "English American" with brown skin makes as much since as saying Barack Obama is an "English American" with brown skin.

    The question should be asked how does the man view himself.

    As for the comments about Latinos being "part Native." That statement is pathetic. Latino is an ethnicity that encompasses people of all "races": Native, white, African, and Asian with all combinations.

    However, the reality is that in the U.S., many people think of Latino as an identifier for people with brownish/brown skin who are either mestizo, white and Native, or Native.

    What's insulting about the dismissiveness of Latinos with Native ancestry is that Latinos with strong Native ancestry are DISCRIMINATED against brutally in their home countries! Seriously, in many Latin American countries, to insult someone the most painful epithet to use is "indio."

    The self-hatred that results from this hatred of Native peoples in Latin America permeates society.

    There is a certain irony about white-looking "Native Americans" questioning a brown-skinned man. How many white-looking Natives experience color-based discrimination that Latinos with obvious Native ancestry experience?

    As for the actor's suitability for the role, I agree that there should have been an effort to cast a North American indigenous person.

    kaypgirl said...

    Um, Roger, was that whole Latino thing because of my comment? If so, sorry about my ignorance, I didn't mean anything by it (thus my ignorance, because I didn't know any better or know the proper term). I was just trying to point out that the actress had played a character with a darker skin tone before and now she's playing a character where she probably has tons of white, powdery make-up to make her look deathly pale (and it just looks so cheesy).

    Anonymous said...

    MediaBlvd> What is your background?

    Taylor> I’m mostly French, Dutch and German. I’m not really sure where I get the dark, tan skin from. It just kind of happened.


    8 months after claiming he found out he was part NA on his moms side while preparing for his role as Jacob, he has now changed his story back again....this is a Q&A from an Interview on Oct20 2008...now hes not NA and doesnt know why he tans so well...

    Anonymous said...

    I understand the points made here and why it would bother some that Jacob is not being played by an actual Native American, but I think it would be equally wrong for someone who was not as talented to be cast just because they were Native American. Come on folks, aren't we all people? At least see if he does a good job in the role before deciding you don't like him in it.

    Anonymous said...

    If he's not NDN than what is he? I aint buying that "French, Dutch and German" crap. He's brown with slanty eyes.

    Moreniqua said...

    Actually Roger, in MANY Latin American countries the "mestizos" and "indios" are the ones in power wreaking havoc on others...for examples look to the recent migration of black Colombians to the US and the social and racial stuctures/definitions in the Caribbean, specifically the Dominican Republic.
    And Latinos use the word "Latino" as a blanket term to include people of spanish and Portuguese descent bc "Hispanic" is limited to those of the Iberian peninsula. And yes, Latinos do have native blood--incans, mayans, aztec, carib/arawak, etc. I do take issue with the "non-native with a drop of native blood" comment as there are many people in the US with native blood that they can not directly identify or connect with, especially African Americans since yes! many Blacks were enslaved by Cherokee Indians, and many Black slaves ran away and joined Indians and mixed into their societies but without proper documentation, this is hard to prove.

    Moreniqua said...

    PS Latino also includes those in the Americas, whereas Hispanic usually just refers to people from Spain

    kalibear said...

    Grr... I'm half NA and half European, and a list of steriotypes are not what I expected to find on this page, it's insulting. My father is a north pacific Indian, he is very tan and has short hair, grown out it is curly, I ended up pale with dark hair, and to be honest I look Asian, except for my nose, my nose looks very similar to Taylor's. Why someone's appearence should define their pedigree is beyond me, and furthermore he is a great actor, sharkboy was not his most recent role, and he fits Jacob's personality. One thing ( appearence wise ) he has in common Is his cute smile, and that makes him close enough for everyone else besides you people.

    kalibear said...

    Q-U-I-L-U-T-E. Yes actually we can spell it.

    kalibear said...

    Oh yeah and has anyone who posted crap about him actually seen the movie?

    honey said...

    I know the right person to play this part! He not only wants this part, but he is half Native American and extreamly good looking. And enrolled with his tribe.
    sharonnighthorse@gmail.com

    Noemi Murillo said...

    this is just retarted how is it an insult that hes not full native . on mtv he aid he found out he was part native from his moms side of the family.
    yea so if hes not fully native but hes part. whats so bad that hes native or not yea its a role for a native american hes part native for crying out loud!! does it really matter if he is or not??
    (though he is part) so he dug in his family to see that if he was or not. just because hollywood didnt cast a full native american to be Jacob Black does not make them racist!!!
    im mexican and if there was a role of a mexican girl that was played by someone that wasnt mexican. how is it being fuckin racist???
    yuo guys are just so retarted that u guys think that someone who is playing a native person is not fully native or just dose not belive that he is part native.
    how is casting a non full native an insult???
    the point is that they cast a actor that fitted in the role..they at least made him look like a native!!!!

    Anonymous said...

    He's not even part native! we truly are the forgotten people.

    Breweren said...

    Whether he's actually native or not is kind of irrelevant now. But at least they didn't cast a blond-haired blue-eyed idiot to play Jacob. They cast a guy who may not necessarily be native American, however, they could have done much worse. (for example, Burt Reynolds in Navajo Joe)
    I actually like Taylor lautner. but i do wish that they used an actor with more native ancestry. it not like There aren't natives all over the country. especially since ya know Jacob is supposed to be from the northwest.

    swimming rabbit said...

    eh. Adam Beach is the only Native actor around?! PLEASE! There probably weren't any Native kids "good enough"? Where have you all been? True, most people haven't seen the bulk of Native films out there, but the reality is that there are a zillion NDN actors, and all they had to do was contact the few casting directors (like Rene Haynes) who cast Native actors for some advice. I mean, what's wrong with Natkotah Lawrence or Tokala Clifford (or Pony Boy Osuniga (who's trained in Kung Fu, if you want to argue that martial arts skills were a deciding factor)? There are plenty of younger actors who could have better fit the role.

    What's more, there are a ton of young actors with a shorter resume but with more raw talent. Hollyweird former child stars are rarely the best actors--sometimes their experience on lame Disney shows or bad comedies works against them. I watch a lot of foreign films, and it's much more common in the ones where the protagonist is a child to have a first-time actor than an 'experienced' one. The most incredible performances by kids I've seen are hands-down by these non-Hollywood types. It just takes a really good director who has a bigger vision for his or her characters.

    I'd have to vote for "lame" on the part of the Twilight producers in this debate. Casting a white kid (who allegedly might be like 1/284th "Native American") to play a fullblood Native character is just helping to extend the Grey Owl image in Hollywood. In 2009 when there's such a plethora of NDN actors (and even a good deal of Native-made films), it's completely uncalled for and almost insulting for them to cast a white kid with a tan and romanticize his ethnicity.

    Anonymous said...

    seriously rob, u frustrate me deeply. Taylor is native american. IT. IS. A. FRICKEN. MOVIE! that is what acting is all about, genius!

    Anonymous said...

    are you even native american?! o wait maybe you are because you've got slanty eyes. wow this is crap.

    Rob said...

    The vast majority of Latinos are at least part Native--enough so I can generalize and say Latinos are part Native. If you disagree with this statement, show me the statistics on what percentage of Latinos have no Indian blood.

    I don't know about you, Kalibear, but I know how to spell the name of the tribe. It's "Quileute," not "Quilute."

    For the rest of my responses to everyone's comments, see Defending and Attacking Lautner.