November 11, 2009

Wolf Pack on Quileute tribe

The Twilight Saga: New Moon Wolf Pack Interview with Spencer, Meraz, Pelletier and Gordon

By Christina RadishQ: What is it that you wanted to convey in the movie, as far as Native American culture?

Alex: During the process of casting, when I was waiting to hear word if I got a role or not, there was a through-line where I prayed, every night. I was asking for permission, even to represent the Quileute tribe. I was putting out a lot of good thoughts. In essence, even though we're taking some of their mythology and their creation story, it's mixed in a fantasy, but we're still taking from the culture. Being Native, we needed to be conscious of that and ask permission to the people of the past, present and future for it. It's a very conscious thing. Native Americans have a right to be protective of their stories.
And:Q: Since Taylor is not Native American, did you talk to him or teach him about what being Native American means?

Chaske: He was very open about that. He understands. We did the best we could with him, and he's the right guy for the part. I'm very protective of him.

Kiowa: He's like our brother.

Chaske: We have nothing but mad love for him. He asked a lot of stuff about the tribes, and we would talk to him and tell him about stuff. There are certain things that I do in my culture that I told him about, and he was really open to it.

Alex: The thing is that we're not even Quileute. So, for us to represent that tribe, it was as if we weren't even Native. It wouldn't really matter because they have different customs than all of us do. It wasn't like we had to teach Taylor how to be a Quileute Native because we don't know how to be that either. All we had was our culture to bring into the filmmaking. We just knew how to respect the mythology of the tribe, and Taylor was definitely receptive to it.

Chaske: He has his own culture, and he could draw from that.

Q: How did you learn about the Quileutes? What do you now know about them?

Alex: During the process of auditioning, I did as much research as I could about the Quileutes, knowing that they're whalers and they inspired the shape of their canoes to be pretty much clipper ships. They were really fast, and they were able to go from the Washington area, all the way down to San Diego, hunting whales. I learned about the mythology and their creation story. The Quileute came from wolves and transformed into people, but they don't go back. That's the thing. That's the aspect that Stephenie changed, when she took some things and put it in this fantasy realm.

Chaske: I was amazed by the storytelling. I was really attracted to that.
Comment:  Alex Meraz seems to be the most thoughtful member of the Wolf Pack. Which may not be surprising since I believe he's older than the others.

I think Meraz gave about as good an answer as he could. But the most interesting things are what he didn't say. He asked permission to represent the Quileute tribe and tell their stories--if only in his prayers. Stephenie Meyer didn't. He researched the Quileutes in depth when he auditioned for his role. Stephenie Meyer didn't when she undertook the much more arduous task of writing four books about the tribe.

There's the difference between someone who respects Native people and culture and someone who doesn't. Meraz does; Meyer doesn't.

For more on Meyer's lack of respect, see Meyer Violated Quileute Etiquette and Twilight vs. Quileute Legends. For more on the Wolf Pack, see Wolf Pack on Stereotypes and Quileute Werewolves in Twilight.


Kat said...

Chaske is 10 years older than Alex (24). And Alex is only two years older than Bronson (22). Kiowa is 19.

Kat said...

When asked about preparing for the parts, both guys [Kiowa & Alex] said that their native tribes were not similar to the Quileute tribe of Washington. Though they are all connected spiritually, the tribes all used different languages, were made up of different people, and had different beliefs, but as Kiowa stated, "we're all still brothers and sisters." Alex prayed every day and relied on spiritual preparation to help his portrayal of Paul, "I asked permission to represent the Quileute tribe. I asked permission for the people of the past, present, and future, that I can honor them in a respectful manner."

Their native background is obviously important to their preparation for the roles. When commenting about the portrayal of Native Americans in film, Alex said he was happy to get to show a more modern, truthful version of their history. "All they might know is what Hollywood has taught, which is not very much… it's very cool that natives are being seen in a different light. It's not leather and feathers on a horse, ya know. It's contemporary. People can relate to it."

And for a clueless ET journalist:
"Native of the Americas: Wow, you've already educated me!"
(after 6:00)

Lynette said...

I note most Native actors are very keen to portray contemporary roles and reinforce to people what a relief it is to get away from the leather and feather stereotype. Having ben a fan of Chaske for some time I note he has been saying this for years:

"Radar: You are a member of the Sioux Nation?

Spencer: I'm Lakota Sioux.

Radar: Being a member of a First Nation do you feel like that helped you bring a lot of depth to the character?

Spencer: Yes, yes I do. Of course, it's written for First Nation people or Native Americans or American Indians, whatever the new pc word is. It helped out a lot. But then again, the way the book is written isn't a stereotypical Native role. That's what I found really interesting about the Twilight series is that it could have been anybody. It just happened to be Natives and I like that, I really like that how she took a contemporary outlook on these characters. It was really a breath of fresh air for all of us, the Native actors. We've been trudging away in films, TV and theater and we can do other roles, we have done other roles that weren't designed for Native people but no one has ever seen them. When we got to this is was so nice to not put on the feather and the leather and the buck skin. There's nothing wrong with that, I take pride in the roles I've played but it was just a breath of fresh air to say that yes we could play these contemporary roles. It was so nice to cut the hair too, yes we can do other things, look at us, and we're a pretty good talented group."

It strikes me that most Native actors play Lakota at some stage in their careers and that Chaske has only ever played Lakota on screen until this role although he has tried damn hard to get other ethnically non-specific roles so it must come as some kind of relief to put the boot on the other foot - as it were.

As you suggest it is what these guys don't say that is as important and what they do say - don't mistake silence for lack of thoughtfulness. Above anything else I have always noted that Chaske works very hard at being positive - he wouldn't have gotten where he has after nearly 20 years working at it if he weren't, - but is also incredibly honest. My impression of him is that if he doesn't have anything positive to say he says nothing at all.

I make particular note of his long periods of silence at our local Twilight convention when his co-star was talking authoritatively about who they were as "Native people" and making generic pan-Native references to the people of the Pacific Northwest and "the Plains" - indicating Chaske. He made a very thoughtful statement about knowing that if all the stardom etc of the Twilight phenomenon were to disappear tomorrow, his real friends and family would always be with him no matter what.

I am a slow learner it seems but I am gradually coming to understand that the real Native cast of Twilight are actually quiet about so many of the controversies whirling around their heads because they are following a time honored principle, much respected in Native culture it seems, that people must be empowered to deal with their own mistakes themselves. Criticism of others may appear quite simple and gain you short term kudos but it changes nothing because only the people in the wrong have the power to make it right.

dmarks said...

A shame someone like Alex Meraz isn't allowed to rewrite the Quileute cultural and heritage material into something approved and authentic.