January 24, 2009

Defending and attacking Lautner

In the comments section of Non-Native Cast as Quileute Werewolf, people have made a lot of silly claims. You can read those claims there, but here are some responses:

Did anybody read the statement that Twilight's producers cast Lautner first and then discovered he has a fraction of Native blood? They didn't intend to cast a Native; they intended to cast a non-Native. I don't give them credit for making a racist decision and then getting a lucky break.

Lautner an enrolled Indian?!

Lautner isn't an enrolled member of any tribe and he isn't half Native. These claims are flatly false.

His fraction of Native blood is so small that he didn't know about it before he was cast and still can't quantify it. These factors make him a non-Native, not a Native.

Lautner isn't Native by any stretch of the definition. I've listed what I consider the requirements for being an actual Indian and Lautner doesn't fit any of them.

In contrast, Burt Reynolds is 1/8 Cherokee according to Wikipedia. I'd prefer that Hollywood didn't cast Reynolds as an Indian, but he's a lot closer to being Native than Lautner is.

I don't need to see Lautner in Twilight to judge whether a non-Native should be playing a Native. Even if Lautner were an Oscar winner, my answer would be no. Casting non-Natives to play Natives is wrong in principle.

The choice of actors isn't between a talented non-Native and a talentless Native. It's between a moderately talented non-Native and one of the many talented Natives who can't get jobs in Hollywood because of racist casting decisions. Such as the decision to hire Lautner.

Does Lautner look Native?

Re "He has brown skin, dark eyes, almond shaped eyes, and a nose that is not typical of most Europeans": Every part of him is more or less Caucasian except his skin color and maybe his eyes.

His "dark eyes"? Dark brown eyes are dominant in Caucasians. His nose? He has the cute button nose of millions of Anglo girls. His nose is the exact opposite of the (stereo)typical Indian nose, which is long and straight.

Re "The question should be asked how does the man view himself": Lautner answered that when he said, "I’m mostly French, Dutch and German." He's never identified himself as primarily Native. He didn't even know he was part Native until after he was cast.

Then we have these dueling claims:My father is a north pacific Indian, he is very tan and has short hair.And:[T]hey at least made [Lautner] look like a native!!!!Yeah, they made him look like a stereotypical Indian by giving him a wig. They gave him a wig because they didn't think he looked like an Indian without one. Duh.

I know that most Native men have short hair. But Twilight's producers don't know that. They cast Lautner despite his not having any known Native ancestry and not having (stereo)typical Native hair. They didn't think he looked Native or was Native but they cast him anyway.

Twilight "just a movie"?

As for the asinine claims that Twilight is "just a movie," I don't know how many hundreds of times I've addressed and dismissed such nonsense. But for those who still can't grasp the problem, here are some questions to answer:

Would you accept a tiny Asian woman playing George Washington? How about Britney Spears playing Martin Luther King? Mr. T playing the Virgin Mary? A hunchbacked "Elephant Man" playing your mother? Why not, if a movie is just a movie?

And don't waste my time saying that Twilight is fiction but George Washington, Martin Luther King, the Virgin Mary, and your mother are "real." Twilight features the very real Quileute Indians. They're as real as any of the people I've named.

For more on the subject, see such postings as The Influence of Movies and The Many Excuses for Racism. Unless you agree with the casting choices listed above, I'm talking about your racism (and sexism).

Finally, someone referred to "white-looking Native Americans." I don't know who this person is talking about. As I've said repeatedly, I'm not Native myself. Unlike Lautner, if I found that one of my great-grandmothers was an Indian princess, it wouldn't affect my self-identification.

I couldn't care less if fans are "frustrated" because I've criticized their favorite pretty-boy whom they want to kiss and cuddle. If you can't address the issues I've raised, don't bother sharing your feelings with us. Your unrequited Lautner love isn't my problem.

For more on the subject, see Quileute Werewolves in Twilight.

Below:  "I look so much like an Indian that they had to give me a wig!"


kaypgirl said...

The wig thing was because in the book, Jacob has long hair. However, the film makers did seem to be going with the stereotypical look when they had another actor wear a wig, too, in the beach scene (he actually is Native, and was originally cast as Jacob, I think, although I'm not sure about his acting experience), although the third actor in that scene, playing Sam, is native and already had long hair (he's actually worried about having to cut it off for the next movie, his hair length had something to do with remembering/mourning a dead loved one).
So, Jacob's wig thing was because of the book, not sure if the other character had long hair in the book, but they made him wear a wig either way.

modest-goddess said...

The two real Native actors in the movie, Solomon (Sam) and Krys (Embry)did not wear wigs. That is there real hair, look at their myspace and there are pics from various years with them and their natural long hair.

Anonymous said...

Finally, a site of my peers. But I'd like to know if this discussion is still active before I post my comment.

Rob said...

I monitor old postings and respond to comments as required, KCinmo. If the comments and responses are lengthy enough, I'll repost them as new items in my blog. So yes, I'd say the discussion is still active.

Lynette said...

Hi Rob,

I know that I am so behind the eight ball on this one but I have only just found out the Twilight casting controversies and just how bad the situation is. I am so annoyed that this is still happening that I have been looking at all the internet search results under "Taylor Lautner Native American" tallying up people's responses to casting "non-Natives as Natives" with the idea of writing a major blog about. I see now that you already have and am actually becoming more interested in the general tropes of Stephenie Myer's projected imagination! Impotent teenagers with altered DNA that somehow manage to impregnate each other - with an underlying subtext on race every bit as offensive as King Kong - for #$%^'s sake!

As it turns out I myself 'appear' to have come down on both sides of the controversy - here is a comment I wrote on a blog yesterday about casting in relation to Taylor Lautner:

The Native actor I was mainly referring to as having their identity questioned as a result of Twilight is Tinsel Korey who I have defended here: http://blogs.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendId=151229614&blogId=503084987

This situation has made me aware of an interesting dilemma: As a non-Indigenous person it is not my role to say who is or isn't Indigenous but then if I were to suddenly claim Indigenous identity whose role would it be to correct me?

The main role of non-Indigenous people here is, yet again, as colonizers in another form, and taking responsibility for doing so and changing the pattern is up to us. The responsibility lies in the main with the writer and the studio who obviously think nothing of exploiting the image of Indigenous identity for profit in any way which takes their fancy - but therefore in all of us as consumers.

Will boycotting the thing help? Its giving a few Native actors their first big taste of success. It's at least exposing Generation EMO to a view of contemporary Native existence however distorted the lens. To the best of my knowledge this is the first time contemporary Indigenous superheroes have appeared in a blockbuster movie anywhere in the world.

At this point I still have a real interest in the "Twilight phenomenon" and maintain the urge to analyse it further but maybe that's because I have invested too much energy in the idea of it as a positive thing and I need to get over it! I am now in the hypocrytical situation of having purchased a ticket to the Twilight tour - partially because I was a fan of Chaske Spencer pre-Twilight but mainly because I wanted to observe 'fly on the wall' style the response of an audience of 'potentially right wing' Australian teenagers to positive Indigenous role models from another continent and see if they are able to relate anything to their own situation!

What planet do I think I'm on?

Would appreciate anyone's thoughts on the matter?

HY said...

I think that you are right in some ways. It is probably true that the casting directors of twilight could have put more effort into finding a 'true' native american to play the role of Jacob rather than simply picking a pretty boy who would appeal to the mass teenage fangirl demographic, but who are we to dictate who can play whom? It is quite probable that there was a true native american more suitable for the role but we don't really know all the details or situations the casting directors went through. I have to say when I first heard that Lautner was being cast for the role of Jacob Black I was skeptical about the reasoning behind his casting and was definitely in your alley in thinking that he was picked for the role because of his looks rather than suitability for the role, but as I began to try and approach the matter from a more neutral standpoint I saw that it was possible that Lautner was cast because he had some understanding/suitability of the role rather the racist casting decisions in hollywood or his appeal to teenage girls but his is probably just wishful thinking on my part.

I feel that your comment about native americans only playing native americans in film is slightly unjustified. I think the beauty in acting is that people can immerse themselves into characters and restricting roles to a certain race is debilitating to the art form. As long as the people of certain races/ethnicities aren't being portrayed too negatively or stereotypically then I think that actors should be allowed to portray anything that they are capable of. Would you say that we should only cast British people as British characters or Americans as American characters?

The actor contrasts you have given are not at all similiar to Lautner and Jacob Black. In my eyes Lautner does resemble a native american in more ways than you given him credit for. Dark brown eyes are also dominant in the Native American people and I have yet to see a true Native American that doesn't have eyes which are some shade of brown. Lautner's nose seems to be crux of his non-native features in your eyes but which non-native can rightfully define the (stereo)typical native features. I certainly have full blooded native american friends who have noses like Lautner's but that might just be me. And I'm not sure if you know this already, but Jacob Black has long hair in the novels and I do believe that's why the wig was used.

Lautner should be criticized for bungling up claims of native heritage though. He should never have said he was native american if he wasn't going to back it up and if anything really ticks me off it's people talking rubbish about their heritage. He should simply have kept his mouth shut if he doesn't have any substantial indian heritage.

I apologize for any silly spelling errors.thank you for starting such an interesting discussion Rob I especially enjoyed the first comment on the initial discussion. 'Hes hot' I believe it was. note the sarcasm as it sometimes doesn't carry without tone of voice. -thanks, HY

Anonymous said...

Firstly, Lautner is an actor playing a role and if he is convincing in it, or if the casting directors think he will be, he should be cast. The examples that you gave of bad casting (britney spears as whomever) is obviously a false comparison, designed to very weakly support your argument. In fact I think you just like to argue and can't really believe what you are saying. None of these casting choices would be used as characters because they could not play the role convincingly. Not because the watching public would be offended by it. I understand that in the books Jacob is strongly connected to his heritage and this could likely be better portraited by a native american who is strongly connected to his heritage. That is the basis of your point, and I agree although I like Lautner and am not overly concerned with his role in the movie. All this stuff about hollywood racism is really just fluff to drum up non-existent emotion. Really twilight fans don't care about the native subplot that you are reading into the books. The romance is the hook in Twilight. It's not about the plight of Native Americans. It would just be the icing on the cake if a Native American got his big break on this role and maybe share a bit with the world while at it. To summarize, a moderate position is probably best. Yeah it would be sweet if a native american got his big break, but Lautner being cast is in my opinion okay (not great, not terrible, but acceptable) and he is doing pretty well if his legion of screaming girls (and women!) is any indication.