February 20, 2009

Lautner's "tween" following

In Natives on Non-Native Casting, someone mentioned Taylor Lautner's "tween" following as if that justified casting him as Jacob Black in Twilight. Uh-huh, sure it does. Does Lynn Collins also have a tween following that justified casting her as the Blackfeet woman Silver Fox? Does Tongayi Chirisa have a tween following that justified casting him as the Caribbean Indian Friday? How about Elijah DeJesus in Pearl?

What's the difference between "Lautner has a tween following" and "Lautner and other white actors have a tween following because tween-oriented movies feature only white actors like Lautner"? Isn't this "tween following" argument just another excuse for following the historical pattern of hiring only white actors? How exactly will non-white actors gain a tween following if movies like Twilight don't give them a chance?

Blame the financiers again?

In the same posting, someone named Jet claimed the investors, not the studios, make the final decisions. Does that mean foreign movie moguls are following the American teenybopper market? Did some Asian or Arab high-roller say, "I won't put a penny into Twilight unless you hire that cutie-pie Taylor Lautner. My granddaughter will die if he isn't in the movie"?

I doubt it. Rather, I'm guessing the studios presented a proposal to potential investors. It probably went something like this:

"Ignore the fact that Twilight is already a hit among teenage girls and will attract viewers no matter whom we cast. And the fact that Taylor Lautner is a complete unknown except for the forgettable Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl. We have no evidence of it, but we believe Lautner will bring in the tween audience. We must have him as part of the package."

How to pitch Native actors

In contrast, the proposal could've said this: "The teenage market is already sold on Twilight, so there's no need to hire non-Natives for the Quileute roles. By hiring actual Natives, you'll attract the 4.5 million members of the 'niche' Native audience. You'll also attract broader American audiences aching for multicultural movies that reflect reality. And you'll appeal to all the European and Asian markets that love Native Americans.

"Moreover, you'll reap a huge amount of positive publicity. And you'll earn praise from critics like Rob Schmidt who look for authenticity in Native-themed movies. So this casting decision will be win-win for everyone."

In short, I doubt any foreign investors required the casting of Taylor Lautner as Jacob Black. I suspect these investors know only what the Hollywood studios tell them. Therefore, the onus rightly belongs on Stephenie Meyer and Twilight's producers for hiring Lautner.

The big picture

One could go down the line of successful youth-oriented movies and disprove the need for teen-heartthrob actors. Harry Potter, Spider-Man, The Princess Diaries, Scary Movie, American Pie, Back to the Future, etc. Even in Disney's High School Musical series, I don't think the actors were teen heartthrobs until the movies made them ones.

Therefore, my message to our anonymous reader is this: You're missing the big picture if you try to excuse or rationalize these casting decisions one by one. Hollywood execs aren't making rational decisions to cast non-Natives in Native roles. They're making irrational, racist decisions and then using phony excuses and rationalizations to justify them.

Some of them probably don't even realize the racist subtext of their decisions. "Taylor Lautner has a tween following...and I doubt any Native actor could do as well. Lautner's tween following will make Twilight a success...or it'll cover my ass if the movie tanks. Therefore, I'll make the (racist) decision to cast non-Native Lautner as Jacob the Quileute Indian."

Below:  "Dude, I was Sharkboy! What have Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, and Daniel Radcliffe done compared to that?!"


dmarks said...

At this point, I can look back and say that it was almost OK to have cast Lautner as Jacob Black in the first movie. He was a minor character, and the other Native characters (including his father, only slight less minor) were cast with Native actors.

But from "New Moon" on, Jacob Black is a major character. He's in the spotlight. Not only that, the character in the books undergoes a major physical change between "Twilight" and "New Moon": a perfect chance to re-cast the role with someone other than Taylor Lautner.

Anonymous said...

I did not say having a "tween" following justified his casting as a non-native in a native role, but rather that was a reason why the studio or decision makers might have kept him on given the actor's popularity with the targeted audience and so many were protesting a propsed change or recasting of the role. Stephanie Meyers had a say in keeping him on as well I believe.

Rob: I did NOT say that it was RIGHT or culturally sensitive to cast him to begin with or an excuse I and a little perturbed you took this out of context. Secondly, although I do not know Taylro L's exacthertiage I do think he is mixed race not white. However, he is not Native. I also agree recasting for New Moon would have been perfect opportunity to use not only a native actor (which is something I have always supported) but also an actor who met the physical requirements of the role. Yes Lautner bulked up but he was no where near the size required and did not look old enough for the New Moon part.

I do believe you take comments out of context .

Maybe it's best not to comment at all because it seems things are misintrepreted as saying it was OK to not a cast a native when that was clearly not the intent of my comment. Best of luck

Anonymous said...

Rob: Do you routinely enjoy lambasting your commenters? Seems so... I mean this was realy a small comment that was not saying that it was ok to discriminate. In fact I was supportive of a native actor in a native role and wanting this role recast. But guess what it's not MY decision. I did notice that the actor's populatiry seemed to have something to do with it. I think I remember the reason I stopped reading this blog. You are very contentious and reading things into comments that were not intended. Good luck with that. Dude, if you have a beef with Summit, Twilight, Taylor Lauter or the man on the moon then protest it. Write them, pound your fists -- whatever the heck works but don't have to attack your audience... (or former one)

Rob said...

As I'm sure you realize, DMarks, my comments about Taylor Lautner in Twilight apply to the whole series of movies, not just the first one. I never imagined that the producers would cast him in the first movie and then replace him. If that had been the plan from the beginning, I would've treated Lautner's selection as a minor rather than major issue.

Rob said...

So Lautner's "tween" following doesn't justify his choice, but it's a reason the studio (may have) made the choice? Sounds like a semantic difference to me. By definition, a reason is something that justifies a choice.

Nevertheless, I didn't say you agreed with the studio, Anonymous. I took your comment and riffed on it, building an argument based on what I know about filmmaking. If you call that taking your comment "out of context," okay, but I think my intent was clear. This posting was about the issues I raised, not about what you believe.

The only time I referenced you "personally" is when I wrote, "You're missing the big picture if you try to excuse or rationalize these casting decisions one by one." I can't emphasize enough the word ***if*** in this statement. You're some anonymous person and I don't know anything about you other than what you wrote. Therefore, I conditionally speculated about what you might (or might not) believe.

Is that a problem? Then identify yourself and give us some evidence of your actual positions. Link to the commentaries you've written on your own blog or website, for instance. If you and everyone else did that, I wouldn't have to wonder, imagine, or guess what you believe.

Rob said...

Re "Do you routinely enjoy lambasting your commenters?" No, I don't enjoy it, Anonymous. Which is why I often let people's comments go unanswered for a week or a month. And then readers like Stephen lambaste me for not responding fast enough. ;-)

But in this case, I'd say I stuck firmly to the issues. There's nothing in this posting that I'd characterize as a personal attack. It's all about whether Lautner's tween following justifies casting him and how movie investors make their decisions.

I'm not even sure how I could attack an anonymous reader "personally." How do I know you're the same Anonymous who posted the first comment? I don't, which is another reason I didn't attack you personally.

In fact, the only time I attack people is when they attack me first. Then I do it to teach them a lesson--namely, stick to the issues and don't attack me personally, or else. I can pretty much guarantee you're wrong if you think you can beat me up about something. (Note the key word "if" again.)

True, I do lambaste errant readers once or twice a week. So that's what...two postings out of 49 or so? If you want to skip the 47 postings a week that don't lambaste commenters because two postings a week do lambaste commenters...well, that's your prerogative. Sorry to see you go.