Last night, I found an article discussing an upcoming forum where the members are going to debate whether or not the Native Americans in Twilight are being portrayed in a stereotypical, negative manner. Well, that got my goat, so I promptly forgot about what I was supposed to be doing and wrote a four-page essay expressing my opinion on the subject.
The short version is: where are these people talking about?! The slightly longer version is below.
I wrote it to submit as a comment on a couple of the blogs I follow, but it’s a tad too long to be acceptable as a comment. So, I sent it to a fellow Twilight-a-holic, thinking that would be it, but at least one person would get to read it. A comment (my first! yay!) on this blog made me realize that perhaps more people could read it if I just posted it. I mean, I do have a blog and all, and isn’t that what it’s for?
To begin with, I would first ask these forum members if they have, in fact, actually read the books. I’m sure they have, else they would not be able to legitimately hold a forum to discuss matters within these stories; nonetheless, I find myself wondering if they read them with the express intent of finding something negative on which they could base a debate. Next, I would ask them to please list the stereotypes they feel might be being perpetrated about native men. The only references to any stereotypes are feathers and living in a teepee. Surely they have more than two examples in mind; I cannot imagine a forum of any length based on such a short list. Another question I have for them is, Why now? Why do you choose now to explore any traces of social negativity about these stories? If anyone at all was concerned about how a race of people, fictional or not, was portrayed in these stories, it surely would have come to light before now. Since the racial red flag has not been hoisted until this moment, it seems to me that some grasping at straws for debatable topics about this popular series is occurring.
I might suggest that they begin their questioning with the actors. Every character living in La Push was portrayed by an actor with some sort of tribal affiliation. The only exceptions are Taylor Lautner (playing Jacob Black) and Booboo Stewart (playing Seth Clearwater); neither has any official tribal affiliation, though each has some native ancestry through family members. (Source: QuileuteWolfPack.com, click on The Wolf Pack link). I can’t imagine that indigenous people would sign on to have themselves portrayed in a bad light. The actors are proud of their heritage, as they have continually shown by promoting awareness of Native American events. For example, Chaske Spencer, Alex Meraz, Gil Birmingham, Boo Boo Stewart, and Julia Jones have all lent their support to Shift the Power to the People to raise awareness and encourage support of South Dakota’s Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, whose reservation was devastated by a snowstorm (Source: http://shiftthepowertothepeople.squarespace.com/). Tinsel Korey has been a guest speaker to empower native youth, conducted a coat drive, and visited students at the Quileute Tribal School (Source: QuileuteWolfPack.com), among other things. I cannot imagine that people with such pride in who they are would stoop to portraying characters that would malign their heritage.
Casting calls were sent out specifically for Native American actors; you can view one such example here: http://www.filmgecko.com/new-moon-casting-for-native-americans/. “Summit [Entertainment] wanted to stay true to the story book characters by making sure that the ‘wolf pack’ were truly of Native American descent (Source: http://www.zimbio.com/Kiowa+Gordon/articles/4/Summit+Entertainment+Casts+New+Moon+Wolf+Pack). Why would a film company go to such lengths to fill these roles with these specific types of people? In this day and age of special effects and spray-on tans, nearly anyone could have filled the roles of the Wolf Pack and residents of La Push.
The comparisons of Jacob and Edward can be explained on several different levels. The article states that “Jacob Black is ‘muscular, hotheaded, passionate, and often dressed in cutoff-style jeans or shorts’…” Jacob was passionate long before he became a werewolf, as evidenced by his love of rebuilding cars and his dedication to Bella. His muscles and hotheadedness came about as a result of the werewolf gene being activated due to the presence of vampires in the vicinity. Jacob’s growth spurt can be followed throughout the pages of New Moon. In fact, on page 131 of the trade paperback version, Jacob is described as having “passed that point where the soft muscles of childhood hardened into the solid, lanky build of a teenager; … His face …had hardened, too–the planes of his cheekbones sharper, his jaw squared off, all childish roundness gone.” Further down the page, Bella exclaims “You grew again,” to which Jacob replied that he was now “six-five.” Bella noted a difference in his size after only eight months, also noted on that page. “By Eclipse, Jacob stands at 6’7″ and has a muscular build” and “his body [has] physically grown to the equivalent of a 25-year-old” (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacob_Black).
In New Moon, Jacob is sixteen (pg. 135, New Moon, trade paperback), which brings with it some natural coming-of-age angst, but add to that the sudden ability to change into a werewolf, something that, until this moment in his life, has only been the stuff of fiction and myth, … well, is there any doubt as to why he might be angry? He didn’t have a choice in this matter; it’s in his genetic makeup. Then he realizes that the girl he loves is in love with his tribe’s mortal enemy, and he can’t harm a hair on his enemy’s head without hurting the girl he loves. While he lives at home with his father, he’s pretty much been free to roam due to his father’s disability; now he has to follow the commands of the Alpha wolf, something which chafes, not only because of a wolf’s natural inclination to be subservient but also because Jacob himself is the true Alpha due to his lineage and he is fighting his inborn instincts to lead (pg. 209, Breaking Dawn, hardback). Alice Cullen chides Bella for being friends with a young werewolf (pg. 387, New Moon, trade paperback). Bella claims that there’s nothing wrong with werewolves, to which Alice responds, “until they lose their tempers.” Jacob is more than “somewhat childlike;” he is a child, albeit a teenage one, dealing with a plate heaping with all the normal problems and several outlandish ones as well–a combination that is sure to make even a grown person “irrational and emotive.”
Jacob dresses in cut-offs or shorts for the sake of convenience. First, he doesn’t get cold, with a natural body temperature of 108.9 degrees (pg. 490, Eclipse, trade paperback), so he doesn’t need to wear a lot of clothes. Then, too, there’s the fact that his clothes don’t transform when he does, so when he changes to a wolf and doesn’t undress first, his clothes are torn to shreds. As a result, he has wrapped a black leather cord around his ankle so he can tuck his pants into it when he’s in wolf form; the fewer clothes he has to tuck, the easier it is (pg. 216, Eclipse, trade paperback). The matter of Jacob’s dress, all the wolves’ dress, is simply due to their very nature: transformation wreaks havoc on their wardrobes, and none of them have the financial resources to keep buying new clothes. The non-wolf characters of La Push, including those we get to know before they become werewolves, are always fully dressed in a tasteful manner befitting the socio-economic situation in which they live.
As for Edward, the “very white vampire … who is well-groomed, elegant, and rational,” he, too has depth of character. First of all, he is pale because he has no blood running beneath his skin to give it color and life. The venom in his veins leaves his skin resembling stone in both color and texture, points mentioned repeatedly throughout each book. He is well-groomed in large part to the fact that his sister, Alice, is passionate about fashion, a trait referenced several times throughout the books. She chooses her family’s wardrobes, and often never lets any of them wear the same thing twice (pg. 273, Eclipse, hardcover).
The Cullen elegance comes from a variety of sources, the first being, quite simply, their ages. They are all from other times: Carlisle is more than 300 years old, the rest are over or near 100. That one fact alone will lend them an elegance of manner and dress that is not seen today, as they reflect the times from which they originated. Like the rest of his vampire family, Edward has a photographic memory, and 109 years of memories, education, and experience stored in his head. He’s not given to spontaneity or hot-headedness, though he can be hard-headed and stubborn, especially as concerns Bella’s safety. But such life experiences have taught him to think first and act later. Their age is the reason for their wealth, which merely adds to their elegance. Any money they had and invested has compounded interest and made them very wealthy, partnered with the fact that Alice has the ability to see the future and direct them on investing in the stock market. Time, experience, and money have all lent themselves to the Cullens’ behavior, appearance, and tastes.
I wonder what is meant by stating that Jacob is “not really equal in citizenship”? Is it because Jacob is 16 and Edward is 109? That, to me, is reason enough; Edward is Jacob’s elder, and, as such, has the benefit of years of experience on Jacob, regardless of either’s ethnicity. Is it because Edward is calm and rational and Jacob often speaks before he thinks? Perhaps, but, again, Edward has had years to perfect his manner and learn to control his temper. In what way is Jacob, and by extension, the Quileutes, not equal in citizenship to Edward and the Cullens? Was Sam Uley taken into consideration? He, too, is a werewolf, the first one of his generation. Yet, when he first turned into a wolf, he hid for two weeks, keeping himself away from those he could hurt (pg. 116, Eclipse, trade paperback). And now, at 20, he is the calm, rational leader of the pack, helping the new wolves understand the changes they are undergoing and learning how to cope with them. Certainly, that deserves some consideration? Isn’t Sam rational, lacking in hot-headedness? Yet, he, too also dresses in cut-offs, so maybe not.
I don’t understand the claim that there are negative stereotypes being reinforced about indigenous men in the stories of the Twilight Saga. I believe quite the opposite, in fact. Here is a group of young men and boys – in Eclipse, the youngest wolves are 13 years old (Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Twilight_characters#Collin_and_Brady) – sworn by birthright to uphold a generations-old treaty against an enemy they can barely tolerate. Yet, uphold that treaty, they do, eventually creating an alliance with their enemy in order to defeat a group that threatens them both. In chapters eight and eleven of Breaking Dawn, the wolves discuss as a group what action to take regarding a potential threat. How is discussing matters as a group portraying anyone in a negative light? Though there is one undisputed leader, the Alpha, who makes all final decisions, he allows those under him to have their say and takes into consideration all viewpoints. This seems a positive thing to me, with the slight dictatorship being a reflection of a wolf pack, not of humans.
The werewolves’ minds are linked when they are in wolf form, meaning that they can hear each others’ thoughts as if they were having a conversation. Having to share their thoughts with everyone else is not easy, so they each work to control what they think about while in their wolf forms (pgs. 416-419, Eclipse, trade paperback). Having consideration of others does not at all seem like a negative trait to me.
Jacob, by his very personality, is passionate and, by circumstance, is hot-headed, muscular, and wears cut-off shorts. Edward, by his physical makeup, is pale, and, by circumstance, is wealthy, well-groomed, and rational. Jacob is still a boy, with only 16 years’ life to his experience; Edward is a 17-year-old man, with 109 years’ experience guiding him. I cannot understand how comparing these two completely different people can begin to illustrate how one is being negatively portrayed against the other. The wolves are protectors, sworn to guard their land and the people who live on it. When circumstances force them to work with their enemy, they overcome their hatred and become allies. When their pack is pulled apart, the two packs eventually work out an understanding and work together. So, there is protection of loved ones, cooperation, teamwork, and overcoming prejudice. If that’s a negative portrayal of indigenous men, then I want to see more of it.