I’ve gotten more than a bit of attention for my post on racism in the Twilight Saga, and more than my share of criticism.
Apparently if you don’t think that the over-description of non-white vampires and other non-white people is the author’s way of being explicitly Not Racist (I call this exotification, but wev), especially when she remarks how exotic and strange their “bushy hair” and dark skin were, then you are digging too deep and just looking for something to complain about because you don’t like something.
Or, maybe I don’t need to go digging for racism because it is pervasive and so ingrained in my daily life that I can just casually sit and let it come to me.
Most notable is the way that I see Native Americans/First Nations/Indigenous Peoples portrayed in pop-culture in North America. I have seen in various places that people are So Excited! that The Saga has treated Natives so well and depicted so greatly, and that all the actors are actually Native and blah blah blah…
Funny, is that I found in the Wikipedia entry, the first line in almost all of the actors portraying the Quileute people spelled out all of their ethnic heritage, to verify that all of those actors were indeed Native American or First Nation (with the notable exception of Taylor Lautner’s entry, who is the only actor they didn’t seek out specifically for being Native American, and, while I think it is cool he discovered a part of his ancestry, didn’t discover he had any Native blood until he researched for his Twilight role). To secure the cred of the makers of the film, so that we all know that not only do they look Native, but that they are indeed Native. To secure the racial and ethnic integrity of all the actors, making sure that we have no doubt about their heritage so that the makers of Eclipse can smile smugly to themselves about how good they were to all of those indigenous actors…
While I do want to give credit where credit is due, I fully support the casting of Native/First Nation actors to play these roles, especially when we have movies and directors who are refusing to do so (I’m looking at YOU M. Night…), there has been a notable culture surrounding these movies, and their fandom that OMFG YOU GUIZE BUT THEY ARE CASTING REAL NATIVES SO YOU MUST BE SO PROUD!!!!11!!ONE!
But be honest about it. The casting director did not specifically seek out only Native actors for the Native roles. Only for the non-principal parts. For the role of Jacob they were perfectly willing to go with someone who looked Native enough, and settled with someone who considers himself White. But when it came down to how good he looked for the big beefy wolfy role in in the subsequent movies, they were willing to toss him aside for someone who looked closer. Fair enough, sure, because nowadays, you really can’t tell if someone is truly Native (or any ethnicity) just by looking at them. But the makers of the Twilight Saga movies sure as hell were not hopelessly devoted to the idea of casting only Native actors in Native roles. Don’t kid yourselves.
Treating Native people so well.
It also has started this belief that somehow Native people need to look a certain way or somehow be able to verify their Native blood, which as I have noted before, is a racist concept, and hurtful to Native/First Nation people. I just simply do not know other ethnic heritages where it is demanded that we do this — that we must provide this information — to be allowed to be recognized. Prove that you are called on the roll and we will believe you. The fact that I carry a Tribal card makes me no more Native than others who have lived with a deep sense of their heritage and yet don’t have their name on a roll.
Even more troublesome (to me, at least) as I have read these books, multiple times, is the framing of the Sam and Emily Relationship.
The imprinted and forever dynamic. This cosmically chosen and all enduring love that can survive all and can escape nothing…even Sam’s accidental outburst of Werewolf rage, that left Emily with scars running all down one side of her face and further. She forgives Sam because he couldn’t help what he did, and Sam is very overwhelmed with guilt and truly sorry for what he did because he loves her so much and tries very hard to make sure he never does it again… Really, what choice does she have? Sam has imprinted on her, and they are to be together. Forever. She belongs to him and he to her and nothing can keep them apart… not even the rage that marred her face.
Where have I heard this before?
As a Native woman who spent a good portion of her life growing on a reservation and who still fellowships with those still there, this is not uncommon to me. I’ve heard so many times how our men are volatile…how they can not control their rage (especially when drunk)…how they beat their women in fits of that rage… All the stereotypes that made us less-than (as if White Men never beat their wives or girlfriends or had fits of uncontrollable rage or couldn’t control their liquor), that were intended to Other us and make us into these odd savages that should be tucked safely aside and controlled. It worked, for a long time. We are even just now still reclaiming land that was ceded under treaties.
And knowing the stats of Native women and domestic violence, and knowing that they are shockingly higher than other minority women living in the U.S., devastatingly higher than White women, I wonder how anyone could possibly make this allusion in a book and not see the racist undertones that they had created. How they could not see the triggered memories that they might invoke in some people? Emily’s unquestioning acceptance of Sam’s treatment of her…how it is all OK because he really, really loves her… and how anyone could read this and then accuse me of digging for racist undertones to get upset about.
Which is a common theme in this series of books and movies; as long as you really love someone all of your distasteful behaviors are perfectly excusable. Stalking, control, emotional abuse, sexual assault, and now physical and brutally violent abuse. All tied up neatly and passed off as Epic Examples of True Love.
I know that many people who grew up on reservations work hard to overcome stereotypes, that they work hard to make sure that they are never seen as someone who falls into the trap of being seen as just another “dirty Injun” or “angry drunk from the rez”. Yes, these stereotypes hurt more than just women and it hurts me to know that a series so popular would choose a Native American couple to display this kind of “accidental” event. It hurts me to my core to see it in Sam and Emily. Almost more so than an ancient duty that keeps the tribal youth from being properly educated and remaining high school dropouts, almost more so than it reducing them into barefoot savages who run around naked in the woods eating raw animal flesh and invading each others’ thoughts (and reducing the only woman wolf to a bitter and angry ex-girlfriend).
But Sam and Emily are important, because they symbolize the way modern pop culture and media still see Native people in relationships. This is how a White woman novelist and White woman screenwriter see us.
Stephenie Meyer and Melissa Rosenberg might have done some research when doing their writing, but it doesn’t replace lived experience. It doesn’t erase the pain, the hurt, or the shame. Their intent might even have been to uplift and make Native culture beautiful, but intent doesn’t matter more than actions. What matters is what came out of this in the effort to chug movies and books out at the speed of Fast Food cups and ticket sales.