I did get a chance to meet with the Native Arts curator at Seattle Art Museum and one of the topics that came up was the Quileute Tribe and the impact that the Twilight series is having, especially the many stereotypes that are being trotted out for the movies. I was looking online to find out some more about the issues surrounding this and much of it has to do with the casting of non-native actors in native roles. The most notable, of course, is Taylor Lautner, who according to Wikipedia actually does have some native ancestry on this mother’s side (although there is no confirmation of this fact anywhere else that I’ve found). As a work of fiction, it certainly is acceptable for an author to combine whatever elements they choose, but I do believe that it is best to be respectful when using important legends from other cultures unless the goal is satire. Although I haven’t read the books or seen the first movie, the materials I have been exposed to don’t impress me very much. Weaving Quileute traditions of having been descended from wolves into a contemporary vampire novel doesn’t really sound respectful, it sounds like the typical romanticism and objectification towards American Indians that has been taking place for decades, if not centuries. For instance, look at the following images:
I’m not sure if the first image is actual advertising or a fan-made image, but the second one showed up quite a bit and seems to be an official image for the latest movie coming out this fall. The first image has all of the guys together as an apparent “wolf pack” along with a token beautiful Indian maiden (you can tell by her choker) up in the corner. The words “Tribe. Pack. Family.” of course only furthers the notion of Indians as primitives or animals. In the second image, it seems to me that they are capitalizing on the exotic qualities of the stereotypical “Native American warrior” with all of the shirtlessness. (Although to be fair, Hollywood seems to treat most of its young and attractive people this way, no matter their supposed race.) I also question the “native” marketing since I highly doubt that the Quileute Tribe will see any benefits from the appropriation and modification of their traditional legends.
A page at The Deadbolt contained a narrative titled “Native American Twilight Lore and New Moon Quileute Legends” that starts out with the following sentence: “Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga has introduced a deep historical layer of Native American history into her popular series of Twilight novels by delicately mixing fact and fiction.” It goes on to talk about the saga and the actors in the films, and in the closing paragraph it says, “Since Stephenie Meyer has created a new awareness concerning Native American culture, Twilight and New Moon have turned a bright spotlight on the many rich and deeply intriguing legends that have existed long before European vampires first settled on the shores of North America.” I question whether the Twilight books actually explore any sort of “deep historical layer” in regards to the Quileute Tribe or whether the “bright spotlight” currently on native legends is actually welcome. The piece itself isn’t particularly well-thought or argued, but what strikes me is that this may well be the prevalent American attitude towards the Twilight series.
It is easy to dismiss the stereotypes in fictional novels and movies as harmless, but considering the broad audience that these stories have been able to reach, won’t they have a lasting and far-reaching effect?