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Thanks to Twilight, we can “celebrate” images of Indigenous people as violent beasties for generations to come…

September 17, 2010

(Cross-posted here at Monstrous Musings, my guest column at Womanist Musings)

A good friend of mine sent me two emails recently – one complaining that in her graduate psychology classes, the scenarios she is given to analyze often are rife with racial stereotypes. Here is the example she sent:

“A couple comes to your office seeking advice on how to best support each other as they deal with transitions in their family. The husband, Brian, is a 27-year-old Caucasian in the US Army who returned six months ago from his second (and, he has been told, final) tour of duty in Iraq. His wife Jamie is 24 and has been drinking heavily since Brian’s first deployment; since his return, she has continued regular binge drinking. She expresses concern over this because her father is Native American, and there is a history of alcoholism in their family.”
My friend’s commentary to this “scenario” noted “I love the way the person that is an alcoholic is Native and so was her father-because ya know all Native Americans are alcoholics and should be reminded of that over fucking over again and we better not let that stereotype fade in everyone else’s eyes…WTF?!?”

In her second email, which may not at first glance seemed related,  she sent the me a link to a July 2010 article from RezNetNews, a site dedicated to “reporting from Native America.” The article, annotated with commentary below, argues that the depiction of the Quileute in Meyer’s Twilight saga is a cultural boon. Yet, it FAILS to consider the furthering of stereotypical representations of indigenous people the saga enacts let alone to note issues of cultural appropriation and commodification. As it is coming from a Native American news source, I found this particularly surprising.

I know I have written about this topic before, but it is one that I feel does not get near enough attention – the representation of the Quileute people is not a “boon” if you ask me, but yet another act of exploitation that furthers negative perceptions of indigenous people while also profiting from them AND altering their history…

Like the psychology scenario above, Native Peoples in Twilight “have issues” – they are abusive and violent and poor – yet none of these aspects are explored from a socio-historical context that considers WHY Native peoples have such high rates of poverty, alcoholism, violence, and suicide. A hint, it ain’t because they are more animal than human as Meyer’s saga (and so many, many Western films) suggest….

Here is the RezNet article, my commentary is in all caps…

Northwest Tribe Revels in ‘Twilight’ Spotlight

July 5, 2010

By Manuel Valdes of the Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) — The leader of the Quileute Nation in northwest Washington first began hearing her tribe had a role in the popular “Twilight Saga” from fans clamoring to know more about the place where a vampire tale of teenage love unfolds.Some fans sent e-mails. The most dedicated among them made trips to the remote reservation that is home to the series’ heartthrob werewolf Jacob Black. NOTICE THE CONFLATION OF HISTORY AND FICTION HERE – JACOB BLACK IS NOT A REAL PERSON – THIS PROBLEMATIC CONFLATION HAS DOGGED (NO PUN INTENDED) INDIGENOUS PEOPLE FOR YEARS, LEADING TO MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THEIR HISTORY, CULTURES, AND HERITAGE

“The interest in our tribe was a surprise, a good surprise,” tribal Chairwoman Anna Rose Counsell-Geyer said. “I thought to myself, people are going to actually get to know the Quileute and we are going to be recognized as a people. The real Quileute.” I THINK YOU MEAN RECOGNIZED AS WOLVES (WITHOUT SHIRTS) NOT “AS PEOPLE”

That was a couple of years ago. With “Eclipse,” the series’ third movie in theaters now, the 750-member Quileute Nation is reveling in the “Twilight” spotlight, attempting to capitalize on the blockbuster’s massive financial pull and welcoming new interest in the tribe’s culture. NOTE HOW THERE IS NO MENTION OF WHY THE NATION ONLY HAS SOME 750 SURVIVING MEMBERS. CULTURAL GENOCIDE, ANYONE?!?

At their Oceanside Resort, the tribe is opening a cabin decorated in a wolf theme, a shout out to Jacob and the Quileute’s own origin story, which begins with a transformation from wolves to people. NOTE THERE IS NO ANALYSIS OF THE COMMODIFICATION OF A TRADITIONALLY NON-CAPITALIST CULTURE.

At a Quileute store in the reservation town of La Push, handmade beanie hats with “Jacob” stitched on them sell for nearly $35. There’s also a “Jacob’s Java” espresso stand. YES, I BELIEVE THE QUILEUTE PEOPLE INVENTED THE DOUBLE WOLF LATTE


Central to the “Twilight Saga” is a love triangle among human teenager Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart), vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattison) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner). YEAH, AND SHE CHOOSES THE RICH WHITE VAMPIRE, NOT THE WOLF OF COLOR MECHANIC…

The Quileute’s homeland — the place where they have lived and hunted for centuries &$151; serves as the backdrop to author Stephenie Meyer’s saga, with the stunning imagery of rocks and cliffs rising along the Pacific Ocean. NOTE THERE IS NO MENTION OF THE COLONIALISM THAT PUSHED THE QUILEUTES ONTO THE RESERVATION NOR OF THE MANY TREATIES THAT DISENFRANCHISED THEM.

Four hours west of Seattle, the Quileute reservation is on the far and remote side of the rain-soaked Olympic Peninsula. The reservation’s boundaries are confined within a square mile. CONFINED TO A SQUARE MILE? GEE, I WONDER WHY…

In the movies and books, the tribe’s folklore is meshed into the role of the Wolf Pack, a group of young Quileute men who shapeshift into wolves. Jacob and other Wolf Pack members guard the reservation from vampires.

For Chris Eyre, a Cheyenne and Arapaho filmmaker, the key aspect of the Twilight series is that it shows Native Americans in a contemporary light. AND A SHIRTLESS ONE! NOTE THE FAILURE TO MENTION THE RAMPANT SEXUALIZATION OF THE “WOLF PACK”

Eyre directed the well-received 1998 film “Smoke Signals,” which focused on a coming of age story of two teenagers living on the Coeur D’Alene Indian Reservation in Idaho.

Like “Smoke Signals,” the “Twilight Saga” marks a departure from Hollywood’s long tradition of portraying Native Americans as a people from the past. DON’T THINK DEPARTURE IS THE RIGHT WORD…

In the saga’s second chapter, “New Moon,” Jacob talks about going to school on the reservation and rides motorcycles. YEAH, WHILE EDWARD HAS MULTIPLE DEGREES, MEGA MONEY, AND SPARKLES LIKE A F***ING WHITE DIAMOND…

In “Eclipse,” Jacob’s friends emerge from a small house in their opening scene shirtless and wearing shorts – a now-signature look for the Wolf Pack. They laugh and tease Jacob about his crush on Bella. HELLO – ANALYSIS OF THIS “SIGNATURE LOOK”?

“I think as long as the werewolves aren’t wearing loincloths, it is a good step forward,” Eyre said from Los Angeles, where he is finishing an episode of the NBC show “Friday Night Lights.” YES, THIS IS WHAT WE CALL PROGRESS IN OUR “POST-RACIAL” SOCIETY.

“It’s so important to have Native people in contemporary roles … that’s where I think we’re lacking. We want to see Native people in 2010. I think we’re tired of seeing Native people in 1860,” he said. TRUE – AND HOW ABOUT SEEING NATIVE PEOPLE NOT PORTRAYED AS ANIMALS?

When the first movie was filming in Oregon, a group of tribal members visited the set and met with Lautner, who interviewed them.

“One thing they do that I noticed is they don’t need to be told to what to do. If the trash is getting full, they empty it out. They’re always helping each other. They’re always there for each other. So I just want to make sure I can bring that part of Jacob alive,” Lautner told MTV in 2008. WTF? NATIVE PEOPLE ARE GOOD WITH TRASH? WAY TO DUMB DOWN THE TRADIAIONALLY NON-PATRIARCHAL, COMMUNAL CULTURAL MODELS!

In that interview, Lautner said he was part Native American. YEAH, AND I AM PART CHEETAH.

To top it off, several members of the Quileute nation attended the movie’s premiere in Los Angeles last week, said Jackie Jacobs, the tribe’s spokeswoman for all things Twilight. Some also attended the premiere of “New Moon.”


28 Comments leave one →
  1. September 20, 2010 4:44 am

    Finally, I can comment (what a weekend, whew!)…

    As the grotesque is my forte, this degradation of Native Americans is how I see that the grotesque is used within The Twilight Saga.

    Meyer doesn’t employ the usual Gothic grotesque of vampirism within her series; her vampires are pristine versions of previous accounts, they are rich, sparkling, overly educated, drive fine cars, wear designer clothes, can function in daylight, crosses, garlic, or invitations to enter are a thing of the past, they don’t sleep in coffins (heck, they never sleep), they are multi-talented, they do not turn into bats, and castles-what castles?-are not their homes. In fact, Meyer’s vampires are the epitome of perfection.

    On the other hand, we have the Native Americans who are first and foremost, brown, and it is because of their coloring that Meyer has objectified them, thereby creating new meaning between sign and signifier. What is worse, the folks who read these books haven’t a clue as to what gross negligence has been done to indigenous peoples. But, I’m moving away from my comparison… the brown people are poor, if employed at all, manual labor is ascribed to them, they drive used vehicles, if the bloodline is present, they are compelled to turn into monstrous wolves at the first hint of local vampirism (silly wolves… there’s no need to do that with the Cullens!), they are unsocialized–staying to themselves, they can be prone to bursts of anger and violence against their own, they will eventually die, as wolves, they are depicted as hunting their food and eating it savagely (the vamps don’t even need napkins for their imbibing of that sanguine substance), the weres only wear shorts and are thisclose to being outright savages, they imprint on babies, they must be animals to have special powers, and the weres devolve whereas the vamps evolve.

    I know I’ve repeated some of characteristics listed above, but I am doing so to make a point. That point is that this is where Meyer’s Mormonism becomes startling clear. The goal of every Mormon is to become a god or goddess in their own right, but there is an exclusion: you must be white in order to become a god. Anyone of color possesses the mark of Cain, which will only be removed, once the world ends, Jesus returns and He makes all the worthy into gods and goddesses. Only then can the “descendants of Cain” be turned white again and enter into the exclusive priesthood.

    If you think all of this is a fairy tale, you’re right, but I didn’t make it up. And I don’t have an ax to grind with the Mormons. These are cold, hard facts. These facts convert the American Indians into a grotesque.

    Meyer says that the Quileutes are hybrids, and according to the characteristics of the grotesque laid down by Wolfgang Kayser (see my blog for more qualifiers), Meyer has taken the familiar and has fused it with something not human. Her new grotesque is an attempt to subdue the very thing she has created. In short, Meyer instills a transference of the qualities she, and possibly other Mormons, wants to control on to the Quileutes.

    Much of the post Civil War literature consisted of such a process. The African Americans had recently been freed, thereby creating a fear of the unknown in southern whites. George Washington Harrison was one such author who continually made the Negro into a silly, childish, stupid, and comic grotesque. Always, the blacks within Harrison’s stories bore the brunt of cruel and inhumane jokes.

    Harrison and Meyer accomplished the same results using different methods. The end result is that a race has been put in their place and used to elevate white superiority.

    And that is a God awful shame.

    (Now I’m really paranoid. I’m sure to get hate mail over this one.) 🙂

    At an earlier time, i

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      September 23, 2010 7:36 pm

      Great analysis from a grotesque lens — I love the link to Civil War lit and how it similarly depicted blacks/African Americans.
      Your contrast of the vampires vs the wolves is excellent and reveals exactly what I was trying to get at in this post — although in a snarkier, less nuanced way!
      Your analysis is spot on and far superior to my admittedly knee-jerk post…

  2. September 20, 2010 5:22 pm

    Natalie, thanks for posting your friend’s emails. I’m a little bit familiar with RezNet and am also surprised at the article’s lack of discussion on the stereotypes in the saga. However, the sarcastic point your friend made on Taylor Lautner being part Native American has rubbed me the wrong way. Lautner himself – not a journalist or a fan – has said he is part Native American. True, he reportedly discovered this after he landed the role, and questions still exist as to the availability of acting opportunities for Native Americans, why Summit couldn’t find a full Native American to play such a major role (or whether they tried to), etc. – but who are we to contradict Lautner and say that he has no Native American heritage? Does your friend have background knowledge into this that she didn’t share, or is she making her own stereotype by claiming, based on Lautner’s appearance, that he has no Native American heritage?

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      September 23, 2010 7:40 pm

      The post is by me, not my friend.
      I know that Lautner’s indigenous heritage (or not) is a bone of contention (as discussed in other comments below). However, I read it in context of the long history of casting whites in Native roles and also in regard to the tendency to cast actors who can “pass as white” or who look “more white.” Even if Lautner is native, why not cast someone more true to his representation in the book. I will admit I hated the “russet-colored” description, but it does indicate Jacob had dark skin. Lautner does not. While some will say skin color shouldn’t matter it invariably DOES matter and, given that our media is uber-saturated with whiteness, I think film-makers should go out of there way to (pardon the pun) add more color. At least Summit did this to an extent with the casting of Laurent and Eric…

  3. Yasie permalink
    September 21, 2010 8:35 pm

    Wow, peoples interpretations are amazing. Having spent time at the Quillute reservation and spoken with elders of the community, you find that their own traditions speak of having decended from wolves. So are they mocking themselves?? I saw the Twilight saga’s descriptions of the tribe and their history as empowering. This was a tribe so intune with the Earth and nature that they were able to use the spirit of the wolf to become the ultimate protectors–down right, bad-ass! The books describe sitting around a tribal fire with the elders telling traditions as passed down by their fathers and mothers. How is this any different than the truth? I don’t remember the books every discussing domestic violence or drinking at any time. I remember that there was a sense of awe that Bella while listening to the histories.

    If you want to discuss what the movies portrayed, there is a differenct discussion.

    As a final side-note, if you pay attention, Bella-the white girl who is supposed to somehow be shown as superior, is also driving a USED TRUCK and has to work while in high-school to save money for school. The book makes a distinct rationale for the Cullen vampires being so rich-they have had hundreds of years to make and save money, and they have someone who can see the future and thus make great stock decisions. I don’t see how that shows superiority of white people and the degredation of “brown” people.

    Long live the natives, and their beautiful traditions and histories. Thank you to Stephenie Meyer for sparking an interest in the Quillute youth to learn of and preserve their own culture because of the popularity of this series!!!

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      September 23, 2010 7:45 pm

      In my interviews with a Quileute elder, I learned it was against cultural tradition to sit around fires on the beach and stories were not told in such a manner but in long houses.
      And, wolves are different from werewolves. This is significant– one is associated with nobility and bravery, the other with savage killing of humans.
      Are you saying that Sam’s attack on Emily was NOT domestic violence? What was it then?
      Bella is a working-class white girl. And, yes, the Cullens have hundreds of years to make money, but need the Quileute’s houses be likened to barns?
      And the point is that what Meyer has produced is not the Quileute’s “own culture” — it is their culture filtered through the lens of a white Mormon woman.

      • Yasie permalink
        October 15, 2010 11:04 pm

        See my response below….and wow, as a non-Mormon, I take true offense in labeling ANY author. Every writer writes through their personal lenses which is what makes each person so unique- so I wonder what your lenses are Natalie or do you think you don’t have any?? I write through the lenses of an Iranian Baha’i woman and Registered Nurse with ties to the Native communities of Virginia…those are my biases.

      • natalie wilson permalink*
        October 19, 2010 3:41 am

        Everyone experiences the world from certain social locations — feminists call it “standpoint theory.” I never suggested, nor would I, that I am not shaped by my social location, experiences, and beliefs. Why all the “offense” and hostility?

  4. September 21, 2010 11:48 pm

    Natalie you know I read and respect your position but this post sounds a lot like that trait of Edward you hate and mention anytime you can: condescending. You are not Quillette they are the ones that decide how to take Twilight whether feeling offended by it or embracing it, if they are okay with the creative licenses Stephenie took is within their right is their culture they are the ones that should be able to choose what to make of it without being criticized one way or other.

    Your comments make it look like they are too dense to realize that they had been offended and that they need YOU to point them out because they cannot. I think your concerns are valid (like all opinions are) but you are taking it a bit to far my ridiculing this people statements on your forum and frankly make you look like the privileged one that cannot try and place yourself into the Quilletes POV about the series. Of course this is my opinion as well.

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      September 23, 2010 7:50 pm

      Your comment made me re-think this post. And, while I stand by my intentions, I agree with you that it comes off as problematically condescending.
      However, I disagree that only people of a certain race/class/sexuality etc can “take issue” with certain representations. Do I have to be working class to be against stereotypical representations of factory workers? Do I have to be a gay male to support same sex marriage?
      Further, not all the Quileute are ok with Meyer’s representation, as I learned in personal interviews.
      I did not intend to make it look as if I know better or mean to tell people how to feel about their culture. If it came off this way, I regret that. I can see how the ridiculing tone suggests this and for that I am sorry.

      • September 23, 2010 8:10 pm

        I didn’t meant only. But people from outside certain culture/race should be careful how they read their issues and do consider all POV from the same people they are meant to defend and understand.
        I totally support gay rights even if I’m not gay, but I never would imply that I know better than a gay person what is offensive to them or not, even if I personally do find it offensive for any personal reason. I think that could come across as insulting of their own choices and their own intelligence. Its all I meant to express is just some measure that not everything is black and white and that personal bias does plays a part on many of our readings whether we like it or not.

  5. Roxie permalink
    September 22, 2010 4:50 pm

    I agree with Ana. Some of the things said in this post really rubbed me the wrong way. While I definitely agree that he portrayals of Native Americans in the Twilight Saga are not all positive and most definitely need to be critiqued, I can understand, as POC the point of view expressed in the article.

    I remember when I read the books I had some of the same thoughts, “wow, a modern portrayal of Native Americans!” I cannot think of anything in pop culture where Native Americans exist in our present. They’re most usually presented as a people of the past. As if they no longer exist in our modern world. So I can sympathize & empathize with the positive feelings about seeing them in the modern world: girls & boys, who go to school and lead normal lives on par with rest of working-class Forks.

    I have the same conflicting feelings about “black” movies (Tyler Perry films in particular). I’m happy to see black people in a light where they are educated, caring, good. However, they also fill other stereotypes (that I hate) as well.

    I can be grateful for the representation, but it is miles and miles away from ideal. I won’t “just be happy” with what’s presented to me. As you’ve shown here, it’s not all good. I will not stop me asking for better, balanced, & more human representations.

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      September 23, 2010 7:52 pm

      I agree that having a modern portrayal is good, I just wish it was a bit more positive (and less dehumanizing) of a portrayal. As you put it so well, we can “be grateful for the representation, but it is miles and miles away from ideal.”

  6. September 23, 2010 4:08 am

    Well. I would like to address the above issues, and offer my opinions. *Draws a deep breath* Here goes…

    First, Anne. I have been a fan of The Twilight Saga for over a year and I remember when New Moon was about to be released (last November). Of course, there was hype, but even I was overwhelmed at all of the information flowing from out the Twilight/Summit camp. The first interview that Taylor Lautner gave was unique, as he never repeated the same information. When asked if he had Native American in his family tree, he said, “Sorry,” that he was all Caucasian and his dark skin came from tanning in the sun. Immediately afterwards, this news spread like wildfire and there were several Native American groups that protested over the fact that a Native American was NOT used in a lead role. Despite the fact that there were several supporting cast members who could legitimately claim that heritage, an uproar began.

    It was at this time that Lautner began to quote two little known indigenous tribes as his “distant” ancestors. The media storm was quelled and attention returned to the movie. But, if you will read this:

    Now there are two people who recall the truth, and as suspected, Summit was behind Lautner’s newly found family tree.

    Second, Yasie. Let’s talk facts. The Quileutes are enjoying the current interest in their tribe and indeed, their early myths include the wolf as a device for survival; however, despite the fact that in Eclipse, Billy Black states that “the Quileutes have always been a small tribe,” he fails to mention why. The shame of the US Government lies in the West Coast Indian Reservations where land was given to the indigenous very sparingly. The Quileutes have just enough land to maintain a school, a few houses, and a few shops. Many live off the Rez.

    Yes, the Quileutes acknowledge the wolves in their myths, but while gladly accepting all the attention, they also point out that much of what Meyer wrote was pure invention. The Twilight Saga is simply a means to get people to come visit; from there on, the Quileutes reaffirm their own mortality, regardless of legend.

    No one stated that Bella is “superior.” The white vampires are the “superiors” in this saga. Bella must go through a transition in order to become a “superior.” Do you know anything about Augustine’s “Great Chain of Being?” It’s purely medieval and Meyer uses it to create a hierarchy of characters. The weres may have supernatural powers, but they are no match for the Cullens. Do you think Meyer created a coincidence when she made the weres brown? Learn about Mormonism before you respond and you’ll find the answer.

    And despite Meyer’s epic series, the Quileutes have existed for a long time and will continue to exist. Let’s not place emphasis unrealistically on The Twilight Saga.

    Third, Ana. When one interprets literature, theories come into play. In order to understand these theories, one must go to school and major in English Lit. Analyzing texts is accomplished just as precisely and consistent as science. In short, English Lit folks are looking for the truth in a text like an astronomer looks for a new galaxy. The possibilities are endless at times, but whenever a simply written book comes along that impresses so many, that attention alerts us English people that there is more to the story than what is written. This process of examination is never easy, but it is performed without emotion or having an ax to grind.

    There is much out there for you to learn, so before you blow off someone who has worked so hard to attain her knowledge, rising to the 2% of the population who possess a PhD, think before you speak. Also, an open mind will allow more knowledge to attach to the neurons in your head. And if you rebut someone, please provide evidence or references to support your protestation. Otherwise, you will be dismissed as working entirely on emotion and “feeling.”

    Okay, here comes the hate mail. LOL

    • Roxie permalink
      September 23, 2010 5:26 am

      Lin, Ana was not criticizing Natalie’s ability to interpret texts, nor did she “blow her off”. I believe everyone here respects Natalie’s hard work, dedication, and intellect. Also, you don’t have the right to demand that Ana provide “evidence or references to support [her] protestation”. I mean really! The comments are not required to be research papers. Shall she provide a summation & literature review as well?

      As Ana stated, that post is her opinion, however, it’s important to note that she is not working off “emotion & feeling” that you accuse her of. (OFF-TOPIC: saying someone is just talking from “emotion & feeling” is a CLASSIC silencing tactic that fails to address the points presented and proceeds to attack the person themselves. It also communicates the idea that you believe they don’t know what they’re talking about) I’m sure you can disagree with Ana w/o sounding so very condescending.

      Ana’s concern was with the racial component of the analysis possibly diminishing the agency of Quileutes to define for themselves how this experience has affected them and how a Quileute person might feel about said portrayal. Undoubtedly, not all Quileute people agree with the representation of themselves in the Twilight Saga/Movies, b/c they are not a monolith. However, when one is of the dominant group they must be careful when trying to defend and/or portray the thoughts of minority individuals. Privilege and (righteous) anger can sometimes get in the way. This is no way diminishes Natalie’s PhD. Nor is Ana accusing Natalie of being insensitive. It is clear Natalie feels passionately about the representation in these films/books and wants a more well-rounded representation. It’s just the way that it’s presented in this post can be problematic.

      What Ana expressed is actually a very common concern when it comes to racial/social justice and working with allies of the dominant group. This isn’t something she pulled out of the air. I hope I illustrated that with my previous post.

    • September 23, 2010 6:30 pm

      Oh…How do you know what kind of education and literature preparation I have to think I have no basis on my statement? Or what minority I belong to for that matter.

      Also if you notice my comment was not to dismiss her POV but the way she presented it by dissecting all the paragraph of the article and adding a remark that dismissed it completely. So I’m not blowing off Natalie’s concerns but asking her to not treat the Quillettes as ignorants and naive because they are accepting of Twilight.

      Also having a PHD doesn’t make you infallible you know? Or incapable of making a judgment like you say that comes from emotion and “feeling”.

      Also she is talking about a real Quillette POV are you telling me that academics are entitled to dismiss indigenous people POV because of their credentials? Isn’t that a privileged reasoning?

      What kind of evidence do you need? We got the testimony of an elder tribe, do you want more articles written by indigenous people? are they still valid if they are not part of the 2% that got a PHD that you mention?

      An open mind would also admit that having a differing POV doesn’t mean that you are less educated than any other person and that is not invalid unless you have a PHD to back it up. That BTW you have no idea if I actually have or not.

      And I don’t feel any inclination for sending hate mail to anyone. I don’t hate people for having a differing POV from mine or for making assumptions about me without any idea where I come from.

  7. natalie wilson permalink*
    September 23, 2010 7:57 pm

    Ana, Lin, and Roxie,
    Thank you all for reading and for your engaged, well thought-out comments! Your feedback on this post has made me rethink it. While I stand by my sentiment that the saga problematically privileges whiteness and furthers a racialized, colonial view of indigenous peoples, this post DOES suffer from a ridiculing tone. It was meant to be funny and snarky, but I see that my attempts at such came off as condescending. Also, as this is such a complex issue, I now realize that this format was not the best one in which to approach this aspect of the saga.
    Thanks again for all your thoughtful engagement and I sincerely hope you will keep reading and commenting at this blog!

  8. Chris permalink
    September 25, 2010 7:30 am

    I’m new here, but I just dropped in to say that I’m just amazed at the OVER analysis of an author’s fantasy fiction work which she herself has said is just a fantastical love story and is not meant to convey particular themes. The frustration in the editorial comments from the blogger also clearly shows that this is an emotionally driven analysis rather than “scientific.” I think the analysis here is almost giving the work too much credit for containing intentional themes.

    So, why was everything in the article taken to be *so* insidious and insulting? It’s fantasy for Pete’s sake! (Oops, did I just offend Pete?)

    I had a completely different reading of the books and did not see them as degrading to Native Americans, but rather trying to describe beauty, color, and richness in a tribe’s people and their land. (The movies, not so much, but that’s Hollywood.) It’s a simplistic portrayal, yes. However, the very fact that, in Eclipse, Bella envisions what her life could be like with Jacob, complete with children, shows the main character did not feel herself superior to or anything but love and admiration for her Quileute friends. How is that degrading?

    Couldn’t Bella’s choice of Edward over Jacob just be as simple as she fell for Edward first or that’s where her destiny was? Besides, Jacob finds his love and the vamps, Quileutes, and Swans all become one big happy family. Again, how is inclusiveness degrading? (This is probably the weakest part of the series, but they all got their happy ending.)

    Look, fiction authors make up stuff about different groups of people all the time, be it lawyers, police officers, people from small towns, people in NY, people from the south, people named Carl, people from different races, whatever. It’s fiction, and stereotypes are a type of short hand in literature that every author uses to establish setting and mood. You don’t see people up in arms every time a police officer is portrayed as corrupt or stupid, a Carl as being an ignorant hick, or Southerners as being racists.

    People just happen to be very sensitive to Native American issues, but the only reason why this fiction seems different from others is that it builds on a real tribe’s name and stories. Still, it is just a beginning author making stuff up. If the spokesperson for the tribe says they aren’t insulted, who are we to tell them they should be? I hope they are milking the publicity and economic benefits for all they are worth!

    You know who I thing should be offended? The people of Forks. She insults their library, finds their sense of humor dulled by the weather, and finds their school system and biology classes lacking. Now, that’s degrading!

    Lastly, I find it sad that people constantly want to use an author’s religious affiliations to pigeon hole their works of FICTION. It assumes simply that if a person has declared a religion then it is somehow impossible for them to write outside of what their organized religion preaches. How limiting! That’s like saying English majors and PhD’s are the only ones who can have valid opinions of literature. Please.

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      September 25, 2010 3:06 pm

      As to your comment that “I’m just amazed at the OVER analysis of an author’s fantasy fiction work which she herself has said is just a fantastical love story and is not meant to convey particular themes,” well, I think you are missing the point — the point of literary and cultural analysis is to ANALYZE. Regardless of whether a work is fantasy, romance, horror, or whatever genre, it still merits analysis. Also, you are placing far too much importance on authorial intent. Read Barthes.

      Your claim that “It’s fantasy for Pete’s sake!” is a very common one – people have said the same thing of Western films, “blackface” comedy, and various types of colonial texts. Regardless of whether works are meant to be fantasy, they still profoundly shape our opinions about gender, race, class, religion, sexuality, etc. The “it’s just entertainment” claim denies the huge impact media texts have on our lives. Think Disney.

      In regard to stereotypical representations one does, in fact, see people “up in arms” over such depictions. It is not that stereotypes are ALWAYS problematic, but rather that when they are used to promote prejudice, historical amnesia,and/or to bolster privilege and make oppression seem as American as apple pie well, then yes, they ARE problematic – whether or not the author “meant” them to be.

      As for the claim the spokesperson of the tribe is not offended leading the the assumption no one else should be, I disagree entirely. Should we all base our opinions and beliefs around the reactions of one person? Should I be ok with the endless war in Iraq and Afghanistan because Obama is?

      I find few people “pigeonhole” works via an author’s religions as you suggest. Many read the works taking authorial context into account, and so they should. An author’s work is shaped not only by her/his socio-historical context, but also by her/his personal beliefs and practices. This is not to say biographical criticism is the most important or useful lens to use to anlayze, but it is certainly a valid form of criticism.

      Lastly, if it’s all “just fantasy” why do you care so much? Doesn’t your concern speak to the fact that this “fantasy” is actually very important?

  9. Yasie permalink
    October 15, 2010 10:57 pm

    The bottom line in terms of the Quillute legends and how Native Americans pass on their traditions is that: THIS IS A FICTIONAL BOOK. Considering how amazingly uneducated Americans are, how are they supposed to understand Long Houses?? I guarentee 99.8% of the population don’t realize that it was Natives who “invented” democracy and were the chief consultants of Thomas Jefferson when writing the Constatution. By stating stories were told around a campfire does not make the books degrading to Natives.

    I am thankful a modern set of books have even opened up discussions and rememberance of Native tribes and cultures. I know many people who only now research anything about Natives is due to the interest sparked by Twilight.

    The reality is our Natives are living in HORRIBLE conditions. Thanks to our government they are FORCED onto the worst land in our nation, they are denied access to good health care and funding for proper education. Specifically in Washington state, Natives are the “group” with the highest drop-out rate! It would be extremely offensive if Stephanie Meyer had put the Natives in the reservations in BMW’s.

    Domestic violence? Now you are looking for hidden meaning in every word. Sam was unable to control his change into a wolf, Emily was too close when it accidentally happened. He has never left her side since the imprinting. If he had a disability, we would pity him. What if he was hunting and accidentally discharged a weapon, or if he was a sleep-walker…his clawing her is not a metaphor for domestic violence.

    And back to the issue of race: Rosalie was basically a mechanic for the family and she is white so where is the distinction between her and Jacob? (that fact is another one for those femanists who call this series anti-female)

    • natalie wilson permalink*
      October 19, 2010 3:39 am

      It is very true that indigenous people have some of the worst poverty rates, highest suicide rates, and least amount of attention from the government/media. In this regard, I see why you feel Twilight at least shines a light on a group that has been neglected in our history books. However, for a white author to do so, especially when the Quileute are depicted as savage animals, is in keeping with a long history of fiction that has dehumanized Native peoples. Yes, it’s true the books have sparked interest in the Quileute, but what the long-term ramifications of this interest will be it’s too early to tell. As scholar Angela Riley sees it, the interest is “sucking them dry” rather than benefiting them (see her NY op-ed piece).
      As for your refutation of domestic violence with the “he couldn’t help it, it was an accident” type of argument, this is the same type of argument when men in the real world abuse their partners. If he accidentally discharged a weapon? Like Dick Cheney? And, as for the sleep-walking reference, men have been let out of rape cases by claiming they were sleep-walking in reality. Is this something you agree with?
      As per the mechanic issue it is very much about CLASS – Rosalie is a mechanic as a hobby of her nice, fancy, fast cars, Jacob is a mechanic by necessity, trying to get his used Rabbit cobbled together…
      Finally, the othering type of language you use (“those femanists” (sp)) is not really conducive to promoting dialogue…

      • Yasie permalink
        October 19, 2010 5:23 pm

        I am not trying to disallow dialogue. Speaking out opinions and reading those that don’t necessarily represent yours is the way we can all learn and grow together.

        What I have issue with is looking for meaning in literature where meaning does not lie. Transforming the scarring of Emily into a metaphore for “he didn’t mean to do it” is absurd.

        People can’t claim that the Twilight series is a cheap excuse for literature in one breath and in the next claim that there were these huge metaphors for deep and complex issues hidden in each sentense the next.

        (And sorry, the femanist hostility is actually toward those slamming the abstinence message in the books…if it were Edward pressuring Bella to have sex, everyone would be crying rape. Since Edward wanted to wait, they are all saying he is “controlling her” and not letting her express her sexual side…yikes, I’m rambling again)

        We will ultimatly have to agree to disagree on the idea that the series depicts Natives as wild beasts. For me, they change into majestic large wolves, who only shapeshift into being one when needed to protect people from vampires. They aren’t savage and the killer of innocent people.

        Thank you for all the responses, I am sincere when I say I enjoy hearing other people’s perspectives and seeing if I learn something new or learn to see something in a different way.

  10. Johanna permalink
    April 12, 2011 8:28 pm

    I am a student currently writing about representations of American Indians in young adult and children’s literature. I know this is an old thread but I thought I’d add to it.

    I have to say, I’ve been reading lots of blogs like this where Twilight has inspired very heated and academic debates– people are so passionate that they will write pages and pages in the comments. Some are very persuasive and thoughtful, most are highly emotional and tell more about the writer of the post than the intended subject. It’s amazing how Twilight produces such opposite extremes of emotion– giddiness and anger. (I’m particularly amused by Lin’s posts, in which she first “defends” Quileutes with last semester’s vaguely related thesis, then claims elitism from higher education… thus putting herself in a position of authority over the very group she is trying to support. She must not be aware of the very real issues being faced on reservations.)

    After reading many interpretations on what Twilight’s supposed feminist/racist/religious agenda is, I have come to my own conclusion. The book raises these issues in a controversial way, and people cite specific examples of grievances as indications that SM is making overt political statements. But if this were the case, the interpretations would not be so debatable, and the “messages” in the story would not be so contradictory. Perhaps the intent is to provoke without coming down on a side.

    • May 19, 2011 4:56 pm


      I feel compelled to respond to your amusement by my posts–especially the “elitism” that you seem to think I’m guilty of possessing.

      I defended the Quileutes and I used a few examples from a historical perspective in order to say, hey, this stuff isn’t new and regardless of how progressive we think we are, it’s still happening. My “elitism” was merely in support of Natalie and of her many years of study in order to obtain a very hard-earned perspective in the literature of her focus. I have traveled that same road and it’s a hard one.

      The other aspect of my obviously poorly related stance on education recalls an oft misquoted line from George Santayana: Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. My point is that education gives you an accounting of the past, whether it is in literature or world history. Through specializing in the study of literature, one can see the various themes, devices, and methods used in, well, getting to the truth of the matter. There is so much more to be taken into consideration than simply the present stance of interpretation of literature. And by gosh, until you work your rear off trying to get to that point of becoming a PhD, you can’t know what someone has learned.

      How you managed to come up with the ludicrous idea that I placed myself “in a position of authority over the very group [I am] trying to support” is beyond me. Do you think you know me by reading what few lines I wrote as a response? I am NOT in position of authority over the Quileutes. That is a broad jump from literature to a nation of people, and the two are distinct and as different as apples and oranges. And furthermore, just because one has an education doesn’t mean that you aren’t an ass in everyday life. In short, an education does not make you superior over anyone and it will not make you a good person, but it does lend you an advantage in your discipline.

      Literature is a reflection of the culture that influences the author, but it can also be used to create a mindset and an attitude that shapes a culture. The Twilight Saga worries me in that young girls may take Bella’s stance and avoid going to college and simply marry right out of high school. The Saga worries me in that the subliminal messages that convey that white is better than brown might be taken seriously. I am also concerned about the pursuit of worldly riches over a simple life lived.

      I laugh at your remarks, as I come from a background of abject poverty. This alone causes me to be sensitive to others, such as the Quileutes and other First People tribes. Right now, the Quileutes are battling the federal government for more land, for if a tsunami occurred, given that they live on a Washington state coastline, their entire nation would be vulnerable to utter destruction. I have even spread the word of their plight, pushing for a petition to be signed by everyone. What are you doing for them? Do you even read their newspaper? And I am not aware of what happens on reservations? How dare you.

      I live in Tennessee, the home state of Andrew Jackson–the foreshadow of Hitler. I have driven down the “Trail of Tears” highway and remembered what that man did to the Cherokee. I have lived in Southern California and trod across the desert land that was bequeathed to those tribes in the Imperial Valley. I have talked to these people and I see what our government has done to them and it tears my heart to pieces to know these things… but I need to know them, so that I can do something to help. In my travels across the US, I have come into contact with many different First People tribes and their plight is always, always, always the same. To say that I don’t know what is happening out there in the real world is belittling and demeaning.

      I know what it’s like to not have very few people to care what happens to you. I know what prejudice feels like. I know the pain of dismissal and rejection. And in this, I am like everyone else on this planet–I have a need to feel self-worth. My students always knew that mid-term and finals would be an interpretation of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches. Why was that so important? Because to forget where we’ve been is to march straight into a repetition of the same base and immoral treatment of those who are different than ourselves.

      I grew up in a very racially charged South in the ’60’s, and I saw some very terrible acts committed by the so called “superior” whites. To place me in a similar category is such an insult.

      I’ve had my say, except that I’m so glad that I amuse you without trying to do so. I suppose I should add that talent to the list of what few I do have. But remember that “to assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and of “me.” Gee, thanks.


    • Natalie Wilson permalink*
      May 24, 2011 2:42 am

      I would love to hear more about what YA and children’s lit you are writing about.
      I agree that it’s very interesting how many varied responses Twilight spurs — hence the subtitle of my book: The Allure and Contradictory Messages of the Popular Saga.
      I don’t find the Lin takes an elitist stance, but I know that as a writer/academic myself I sometimes do that unintentionally or without realizing it — sometimes we can begin to feel like such “experts” that an overly authoritative tone creeps in. I don’t find this in Lin’s writing, but I do sometimes see it in my own!
      I don’t think SM is making overt political statements, but I do think she makes subconcsious ones that come from her being steeped in Mormon theology (as I argue at length in my chapter on how I see her religious beliefs informing the saga).
      I also don’t think she had an intent – as she herself claims — but just because an author doesn’t have an intent doesn’t mean that their works don’t have distinct meanings/intentions that come through. All writing is political — whether one admits or intends it… Trying to be “apolitical” is itself a political stance…

  11. Yasie permalink
    May 21, 2011 11:15 am

    Although I know I have left a few replys here already, I have been moved to leave a last one. I was looking at the Quilute Nation’s Facebook page and their latest posting of pictures jumped out at me. At the Quilute School, their presentation not only included real wolves, it also included people in wolf masks and costume. Under one of the pictures they even state, “Here comes the wolf dancers, also these young men -the inspiration of the “werewolves’ in the twillight saga series.” For another picture they state, “Lots of energy was in the room, these young men with the drumming evoke the spirit of the ancesters and it was felt by the wolves.” Pretty interesting that they would state and do all this if they found it so offensive and thought that the stories of their anscestors portrayed them as “violent beasties”.

    • May 21, 2011 12:53 pm

      Hi Yasie,

      I’m not responding to your comments about the Quileutes so much as that I simply want to throw this information in the mix. I manage a blog on wolves ( ) and it’s interesting to note that Washington state currently has only two confirmed wolf packs within its borders. In July 2008 and July 2009, those two packs were confirmed by wildlife biologists, and this past month, evidence was presented to suggest a third pack might have been established. That’s not a lot of wolves.

      Plus, this May, wolves were removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, and Eastern Washington. There are many people at work trying to reverse this decision by Congress, but in the meantime, wolf hunts are being organized. So, in turn, if this decision is not overturned, there may be less wolves than ever.

      I’m not sure exactly where the two confirmed wolf packs are located, but I do know that they are not near the coastline of Washington state. And that is the current state of Canis lupus in Washington.


  1. Thanks to Twilight, we can “celebrate” images of Indigenous people as violent beasties for generations to come… « Professor, What If…?

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