'Twilight' faces harsh glare of fans' high expectations
"Now I know what it's like to be in a boy band," jokes Taylor Lautner, 16, who plays Jacob in the film.
"Our actors, they knew what they were getting into when they signed on for this," says director Catherine Hardwicke. "But I don't know how much we really knew."
This "cultural tsunami," as Patrick Goldstein described Twilight in The Los Angeles Times, is a story of that teen staple, "forbidden love," the love between a human (Kristen Stewart) and a hot young vampire (Robert Pattinson).
For Laurent, one of the nomads, she cast Edi Gathegi, a veteran of TV's House and the movie Gone Baby Gone and a native of Kenya.
"We all knew fans might be upset by my casting," Gathegi says. "But Stephenie left me a loophole. My character is described as 'olive-toned.' My answer to that is, 'Shouldn't there be black olives?'"
In other words, my suggestion in Meyer's Unconscious Racism? seems to be right. Meyer had racial models somewhere in her mind when she wrote the Twilight books.
Then there's this charming bit about Lautner:
"Jacob is part of the Quileute Tribe," he says. "So I created a booklet containing all the Quileute legends and traditions that I could find. . . . I brought that with me to Portland when we started filming. I got to meet actual kids from the tribe, and their parents. The kids had the same hobbies as anybody else in high school. I'd learned all their legends, but the kids didn't have a clue what I was talking about. 'Legend of the Thunderbird? What's that?'"
I wonder if Lautner thought learning the actual Quileute legends would make him more acceptable as Jacob. My answer to that implied question is: No, not really. But it's better than nothing, I guess.
How did the Quileutes react when Lautner pointed out their cluelessness? "Gee, thanks for motivating us to study our own culture"? Or, "Gee, thanks for rubbing our noses in our ignorance. Have fun jetting back to Hollywood while we struggle to survive"?
Lautner recently learned he's part Potawatomi and Ottawa. I wonder how he'd do on a quiz about the Potawatomi and Ottawa cultures. Not too well, I'd guess.
The message of Twilight
Here's a thought on why Quileute kids don't know their own legends. When they look around, they see a white author falsifying their legends to get ahead. They see a non-Indian actor getting a role that could've gone to one of them.
What's the message here? That Quileute people and culture don't matter. That anyone can make a buck by inventing Quileute lore. That being rich and famous is more important that honoring ancient traditions.
Look at what's on the screen. Handsome (white) Edward and beautiful (white) Bella are the stars. Nonwhite actors are evil vampires, werewolves, or other unglamorous characters. Indians don't get a significant role until the sequel, assuming there is one.
Faced with these cultural attitudes, why would Quileute kids read books or listen to elders about their history? Why would they strive to be unique and Indian rather than white like everyone else? Twilight is telling them that the mainstream is the road to success.
And if they're too poor to keep up with the Joneses? If they're too far removed from good schools, jobs, and health care? Why wouldn't they drop out, do drugs, and give up? When society tells you you're out of luck because of your background, you tend to believe it.
You can apply this hypothesis to Native and pop culture in general. What's the message when a role like Tonto goes to Johnny Depp instead of a real Indian? When white folks honor mascots but ignore real Indians? When society builds monuments to stereotypical Indians but cuts the budget for real Indians?
Answer: Real Indians don't matter.
Rating the movie
I've read several reviews of Twilight. On a scale of 1-5, with five being the best, the reviews range from 1 to 4. The average reviewer seems to think Twilight is about a 2.5--i.e., an average movie.
I gather Jacob and the other Quileutes don't play a major role in this movie. The reviews barely mention them. I trust they'll play a bigger role in the inevitable sequels.
For more on the subject, see The Best Indian Movies.
Below: "I know Quileute legends! I'm more Indian than you are!"