November 28, 2009

How New Moon robbed Natives

Alpha wolf in 'Twilight' blockbuster has Poplar roots

By Elizabeth L. HarrisonFor Chaske, his heritage has been both a blessing and a curse. Some Native American roles, he said, he was very proud of, while others he auditioned for only because he needed a job.

"It's a double-edged sword," he said. "I've lost roles because I wasn't Indian enough. I can't figure it out, and I don't want to waste time trying to figure it out."

Being Native got him the role of Sam, he added, for which he's grateful.

"It's cool because it's very contemporary," Chaske said. "It's not all leather and feather."

And the exposure he's received from "Twilight: New Moon" has helped him land non-Native parts, as well as launch his own production company, Urban Dreams.

"The Twilight Saga films are allowing a new generation of young native and First Nations actors to be discovered by mainstream audiences," Haynes said. "That is very cool and exciting!"
Comment:  This is all good for Spencer and the other members of the Wolf Pack. But consider this: Judging by the Google hits for each of their names, Taylor Lautner is more popular than the four "wolf boys" combined:

"Taylor Lautner":  3,390,000 hits
"Alex Meraz":  1,300,000 hits
"Chaske Spencer":  753,000 hits
"Kiowa Gordon":  722,000 hits
"Bronson Pelletier":  547,000 hits

Lautner's fame should've gone to a Native actor.

Look at the response Lautner got on The Tonight Show. He was perhaps the most popular guest since Conan O'Brien took over the show. He's a star of New Moon, the most popular movie in the country. At the moment he may be the second most popular actor in Hollywood (after Robert Pattinson). No non-Twilight actor--not Will Smith, Tom Cruise, or Tom Hanks--has more eager and enthusiastic fans.

Before the Twilight movies, Lautner was a little-known child actor. Because of them, he may be a superstar, a leading man, or at least a well-employed actor for the rest of his career. Like other franchise stars--Sean Connery, William Shatner, Harrison Ford, Johnny Depp, Daniel Radcliffe--I suspect he'll be always be a recognizable name brand.

What could have been

Now imagine if the Jacob Black role had gone to a Native actor instead. This actor would've become the most famous Native actor in the world--more famous than Wes Studi, Graham Greene, or Adam Beach. He singlehandedly would've put Native actors on the map.

People would be clamoring not only to hire him, but to hire actors like him. "The prime teen demographic is swooning over these bronzed Native hunks," producers would say. "Find me more actors like [name of real Native actor, not Taylor Lautner]."

Black actors didn't break through into mainstream Hollywood roles until Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby proved they could attract audiences. Native actors won't break through until they're given the same chance. With Taylor Lautner playing the biggest Native role since I don't know when, this is a huge missed opportunity.

Heck, this may be the biggest Native role in the history of movies. Has anyone (no, not Johnny Depp) ever played a top-three Native role in a bigger box-office hit? Not that I can think of.

That breakthrough role should've gone to a Native actor. It's what Twilight's producers robbed Natives of when they cast Taylor Lautner.

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

Below:  "Will Ferrell, Jim Carrey, and now me! I'm the leadoff guest on The Tonight Show! That means I'm a big star!"

1 comment:

Lynette said...

Have been a fan of Chaske for over a year - pre the Twilight farce. I actually paid money for a Twilight convention specifically to meet him and was not disappointed. I have found him to be a very straight forward and honest person. I particularly remember his statement that when all this hype around Twilight calms down he is confident his true friends and family will always support him. To me the real Native cast are working very hard to remain positive and make the best of a bad situation with all the controversies spinning around their heads - they would not have succeeded in the industry they are in if they were not inherently positive people. I hope Chaske gets some truly great roles that show his real acting talent to make up for this particular fiasco.