by Sam Reimer
This paper looks at the racial depiction of Native Americans in the Twilight Saga, exploring the historic representations of Native Americans in Hollywood, construction and reinterpretation of vampire and werewolf lore, the hybridization of the romance and horror genre in the films, the role of Bella’s point of view, and how these factors reduce Native Americans to regressive stereotypes and promote white supremacy.
To say that the Twilight series is a modern phenomenon is somewhat of an understatement due to its remarkable financial success and international popularity. While in many circles any serious scholarly attention drawn to these films is embarrassing at best and condemnable at worst, one must note how important this series has been in highlighting and invigorating a dormant audience. The popularity of the series alone is enough warrant a closer look at the messages the films are disseminating, especially because they play to such a specific and often impressionable audience. Critical derision for these films commonly focuses on formative elements and the interpretation of genre conventions. Unfortunately, romantic melodrama conventions are often ignored as critics cheaply attack the films’ admittedly ignorant use of vampire and werewolf lore. It is the melding and compromise of melodrama and horror conventions that makes the series especially interesting for critical analysis. Looking at the series in this context makes it more apparent why both Stephenie Meyer and the filmmakers behind each film made such seemingly ill-informed decisions. Using this approach, I do not wish to debate the merits or failings of the series as a whole, rather I desire to look at how race is portrayed in the Twilight Saga; I will specifically focusing on the depiction of Native Americans in contrast to depictions of white Americans and whiteness in general, and how the reinterpretation of vampire and werewolf mythology and the use of the romance genre affects these depictions. Twilight is significant amongst recent Hollywood films as it consciously focuses on an existing Native American tribe, the Quileutes, allowing one, Jacob, to organically become one of the key protagonists in the films. This is especially unique given that the films are set in a contemporary environment and take place outside of the Western genre. The Quileutes inhabit a modern setting, and as such the films partially examine a contemporary experience for a specific Native American tribe. It is unfortunate then that instead of being racially progressive, Jacob and his tribe are victims of colonial racism and racial stereotypes and are constantly compared and judged next to their white neighbors. These depictions regularly appear in a traditional sense (in context of film history), but, and more significantly, they are heightened in even more condemnable ways through the application of the genre hybrid formed by Meyer. The filmmakers emphasize the hybridization of melodrama and horror through the perspective of Bella, resulting in not only the denigration of the Quileute tribe and Native Americans as a whole, but also the regressive promotion of white supremacy as a construct that every race should embrace and celebrate.
Though the series as a whole communicates complicated images and messages on race, I will focus specifically on New Moon (2009) and Eclipse (2010). These films provide the most poignant case studies because in New Moon Jacob transforms into a werewolf, as well as a protagonist in the series, and Eclipse provides the most detailed background of the Quileute’s history. An analysis of both provides a focused view on what the films are saying about Native Americans through Jacob, his new supernatural form, and the tribe he belongs to. Most importantly, both of these films introduce the romantic conflict between Bella, Jacob, and Edward–a conflict that is resolved by the close of Eclipse. It is through this conflict’s inherent melodrama, as well as the point of view the audience is afforded, that the films most strongly propagate white supremacy and Native American inferiority. Initially, I will identify historical depictions of colonial racism toward Native Americans in American films to explore how contemporary negative images are a result of adherence to archaic conventions. Then I will look at the traditional vampire and werewolf lore and the implications of their reinterpretation and hybridization with romantic melodrama. Finally, I will look at the perspective the films afford their audience, and how they emphasize the already negative portrayal of race.
Hollywood, predominantly through the Western genre, rewrote the history and image of the Native American so much so that fallacious racial characteristics continue to prevail in media and society. Both scholarly discussions on historical dictations of Native American in Hollywood films, and more general race representation in film, are beneficial for understanding an audience’s expectations and understanding of Native American race and culture. Rita Keshena suggests that Hollywood “molded and cast” the Native American in an image pleasing to the white man, then distributed this image as authentic to spectators (Bataille, Silet 107). Keshena explains that this configuration resulted in a “prototype” in which Native Americans were characterized as “treacherous, vicious, cruel, lazy, stupid, dirty, speaking in ughs and grunts, and often quite drunk” (107). Ralph and Natasha Friar suggest the unfortunate result is that this construction has been broadly accepted throughout American society, which was (and arguably still is) reinforced by the historical concept of Native Americans as a “general adversary” (Friar 205). John Belindo, a Kiowa-Navajo, explains that these cinematic motifs had negative effects on society’s perception of Native Americans and Native Americans’ perception of themselves. Belindo emphasized that along with these motifs, the lack of alternate depictions of Native Americans has cast them as a villain to society (Friar 264). Relating to Belindo’s last assertion, Robert Stam and Louise Spence highlight the importance of audience expectation in the production of racist imagery (Braudy, Cohen 766). The lack of representation outside of Hollywood Westerns, along with the demise in popularity of the genre, has preserved these tropes so that contemporary spectators still bring these cultural and ideological assumptions to the cinema, and expect to see them on screen. This results in ignorance toward Native American history, culture, and society; because Hollywood is still a predominantly white-dominated industry, films produced by the Hollywood system carry ignorant motifs that satisfy ignorant expectations and help “[produce] an illusionary reality effect” (757).
It should not be surprising then that New Moon and Eclipse adhere to these regressive and antiquated codes of representation, casting Native Americans as threats to white society. However, to their credit, these films display a community of Native Americans who are somewhat assimilated into their contemporary society, rather than focusing solely on stereotyped customs and conversations. For example, we see Jacob and his tribe engaging in contemporary activities such as fixing motorcycles and going to high school parties. Additionally, they are presented as being a happy and content people, and Bella’s father even encourages her to be friends with Jacob–which suggests racial harmony in their community. But, at the same time, these people are broadly reduced to “an omnipresent threat to civilization” (Friar 264). Around the time that Jacob changes into a werewolf, we are presented with information stating that civilians of Forks, Washington are being mauled by bestial figures. This coincides with the development of Jacob as a protagonist and immediately creates a sense of foreboding concerning his character whenever he, or his tribe, are mentioned.
It is also significant that Jacob develops as a character in the second film rather than the first. By the time he broods into frame the spectator has previously been persuaded to sympathize and empathize with Bella and Edward’s relationship. As a result, (outside of a spectator’s preference) Jacob’s role within these films is as the main antagonist to their relationship and thus to the central story of the films. Though there is clear romantic conflict throughout New Moon and Eclipse, Jacob ultimately loses the battle for Bella’s affection, arguably before he began. Diawara explains that a minority’s power is diminished when they are “depicted playing by the rules of white society and losing” (Braudy, Cohen 770). This is compounded by the fact that Jacob vies for Bella’s affection after the rules for this action have been established by Bella and Edward. The Friars suggest that images of a minority losing are extremely common among depictions of Native Americans (to the point of being a motif), and that even when audiences are afforded sympathy, it is conventional to see this character “still losing to the same superior few” (213). After Eclipse, Jacob resigns himself from his futile conquest and his role shifts with a similarly negative outcome.
In Breaking Dawn Part I & II, Jacob is reduced to the role of being a noble martyr when he imprints on Bella’s child, a concept associated with his tribe in Eclipse. Later, this role is appropriated by Bella, further striking a negative comparison between Native Americans and white Americans. This reconfiguration continues to nullify Jacob’s ability to exert influence within Bella and Edward’s relationship and in the film as a whole–as he is afforded no choice but to love the very relationship he fought against. The notion of Native American martyrdom is established in Eclipse when the audience learns of the Quileute’s first interaction with vampires. In flashback we learn of a conflict between Taha Aki, a shape shifting chief, and a villainous vampire. Taha ends up being on the losing end of the battle and just before the vampire ends his existence (and presumably the existence of werewolves), Taha’s third wife sacrifices herself so that the vampire will be uncontrollably drawn to her blood. Though this martyrdom initially weakly assigns courage to this Native American character, it is undone when Bella performs a similar act. At the climax of Eclipse, Edward is held captive by Bella’s vampire stalker Victoria and her sidekick Riley. Seeing this, Bella grabs a sharp stone and cuts her arm, causing Victoria and Riley to be distracted. This is extremely problematic because Bella not only appropriates Native American history, but she does it more effectively. Bella displays the same courage in a similar situation, but she is smart enough not to kill herself, which creates a negative racial parallel between her and the Quileute tribe. This retroactively casts Native Americans as ignorant in their own folklore, whilst invoking social Darwinism to suggest the colonizers as rightful inheritors of the Americas. This representation plays on the racist concept of Native Americans attempting to function, and failing in a white man’s world, as Bella plays by their rules and is more effective. This is why it is so unsatisfying when Jacob imprints on Bella’s child in a similar way, as he is robbed of his very ability to “[play] by hegemonic rules” (Braudy, Cohen 771). This narrative choice is most damning though, as it shows that the impossibility or ineffectiveness of Native Americans playing by hegemonic rules is result of their nature and not white culture. The concept of imprinting is one of many devices that reduce Jacob to a bestial form and represents a shift away from traditional werewolf conventions, further reducing Native Americans to narrow values.
Meyer’s adaptation of both vampire and werewolf mythology creates a racial valley between Native Americans and white Americans, which ultimately acts to promote white supremacy. Natalie Wilson argues that Meyer’s adaptation of both vampire and werewolf fantasy serves to “glorify whiteness and wealth on the one hand, and to perpetuate notions of indigenous people as noble but beastly savages on the other” (Parke, Wilson 195). Wilson focuses on the hybridization of werewolf myth with Native American shape-shifter myths, explaining that it, “[resulted] in a presentation that is more negative than glorifying” (195). Generically, werewolves are associated with “murder, rape, cannibalism and incest,” focusing on the beastly form of the wolf and its uncontrollable rage and viciousness, rather than the human form (195). In both films we frequently see members of the Quileute tribe simmering with anger after only mild provocations, alluding to their inhuman form. Native American aggression and threat is also personified through the character of Emily, a Native American woman who bears deep facial scars as a result of her relationship with Sam, a Quileute werewolf. Emily visibly bears the potential, and almost inevitable (given that no other relationships are highlighted) results of being close to a Quileute. Traditionally in the genre, one becomes a werewolf either through direct contact with an existing werewolf, or one has the misfortune of being victim of conjuring or coincidence. Meyer ignores this, instead racially assigning lycanthropy to the Quileute tribe. Unlike vampirism, where any race or age can potentially become a vampire, only Native American lineage can result in shape shifting. Additionally, becoming a werewolf coincides with maturity, thus representing the final stage of an adult Quileute’s development; when compared to vampirism within the films, this alludes to werewolf as being the highest and more dangerous state of Quileute development. Stam and Spence state that “absence” carries negative connotations (Braudy, Cohen 756), which is seen throughout the series–as we don’t see any different tribe (which denies Native Americans “individual identity” [Friar 205]) or any non-Native American werewolves. As a result, the audience is left to assume that Native Americans have bestial savagery in their blood. The films’ focus on the corporeal, both human and werewolf, carries similar racist undertones.
The Quileute tribe are demonized to colonial reductions in their wolf form and objectified sexually when they inhabit their human form, both reflecting racist sentiments toward them. The rite of passage in becoming a man for Native Americans is depicted as culminating in, and determined by, the transformation into a wolf. From that point on, a supernatural form is a signifier for each man that has gone through the process. Both films spend time focusing on Jacob’s wolf form—a form which even outside of werewolf mythology is associated with evil and danger, especially in film. Wilson argues that this emphasizes Native Americans as “Others,” who are “ethnically and/or socioeconomically constructed as lesser and evil” (Parke, Wilson 197). Wilson explains that this othering links to colonialist history, which cast Native Americans as animals in order to justify frontier aggression (197-8). Stam and Spence specifically make mention of this, stating the colonizer did, and Hollywood often has “[assigned]…values to real or imaginary differences, to the accuser’s benefit and at his victim’s expense, in order to justify the former’s own privilege or aggression” (Braudy, Cohen 753).
But even when the Quileute’s animal form isn’t focused on there are still rampant issues stemming from objectification. Wilson quotes Richard Dyer, who in his study “White”, brings attention to racial implication through objectification, stating, “[minorities] can be reduced (in white culture) to their bodies and thus to race, but white people (are not) reducible to the corporeal” (Parke, Wilson 200). This is true of Edward as he is rarely objectified in the series, even when he sheds his shirt in the middle of an Italian plaza toward the end of New Moon. In this scene Edward’s physical form is exposed to emphasize the tragic nature of his decision to reveal his vampiric identity rather than reveling in his alabaster skin. The shirtless nature of each tribesman is so ridiculous that even the films themselves confront it when Edward asks Bella “Doesn’t he own a shirt?” Aside from the comical absurdity of this construct, there are serious problems of racial objectivity. Speaking of depictions of black characters in film, Diawara explains, “dominant cinema situates black characters primarily for the pleasure of white spectators (male or female)” (770). When not masquerading as giant wolves, Jacob and his tribe are reduced to walking, grunting torsos–easy on the eye and the brain. This shirtlessness also draws the spectator’s attention to their skin color, which racializes the objectification and draws attention to their difference from the intensely white Cullens. Jacob’s increased characterization in New Moon and Eclipse is complemented by low-angle, well-lit body shots, groovy music cues; it’s assisted by Bella uttering lines like, “You’re sort of beautiful”–a line that comes in direct response to Jacob taking off his shirt and showing his rippling muscles. It could also be argued that Bella only begins showing Jacob serious attention once he has bulked up and become more minimalist in his fashion sense. The flagrance of the films’ objectivity is akin to Angela McRobbie’s comments on use of irony in post-feminism. McRobbie argues that the belief that feminism had achieved its goals, or outstayed its welcome were manifest in ironically blatant depictions of sexism and objectification of women (258-9). A similar train of thought can be applied to the objectification of the Quileute tribe–their bodily exploitation being the result of an image of the Native American, crafted and sold by Hollywood and accepted by the masses. Stam and Spence argue that objectifying and exploiting minorities “affirms our sense of power while making the inhabitants of the Third World objects of spectacle for the First World’s voyeuristic gaze” (Braudy, Cohen 754).
But it should also be argued that when changing vampire mythology, Meyer applies physiological interpretations that inscribe racial messages. Vampires in Twilight are physically altered from traditional vampire lore in a way that romanticizes them and attributes qualities of white supremacy and exceptionalism. The most discussed alteration Meyer made to vampire mythology is the quality of their skin. Vampires are usually nocturnal creatures, unable to withstand daylight, as seen vividly in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987). Meyer’s vampires, however, are able to waltz around during the day, but must still avoid direct sunlight due to a non-lethal effect it has on their skin. Instead of burning to cinders, their skin sparkles with ethereal beauty; therefore they avoid sunlight because it reveals their identity rather than destroying their bodies. Edward’s shimmering skin is depicted romantically, and though his skin is a signifier of threat, Bella and the audience marvel at its beauty rather than its implication. In Twilight, Edward continually insists to Bella that he has the “skin of a killer,” but she immediately disregards this, responding, “I don’t believe that.” Edward persists, but Bella contends saying, “I don’t care,” and at the close of the conversation declaring, “I trust you.” It is both through displayed images and Bella’s reaction to them that the negativity connoted through Edward’s skin is nullified. Instead we are left to marvel at the purity and whiteness of his body and as Dyer suggests, his race. Danielle Borgia examines the connection of the allure of Edward’s whiteness to his affluence, suggesting, “The irresistible allure of the vampire’s beauty and privilege also problematically depicts his white skin and his elite world as justifying her subordination to his superiority” (155). Meyer’s vampires still crave blood, and the audience is shown how insatiable that is when Bella cuts her arm in the Cullens’s home in New Moon. But the Cullens instead drink the blood of animals out of an act of nobility, suggesting a potential for transcendence from their supernatural restrictions that is unseen in their wolfish neighbors.
Comparison of supernatural ability and socio-economic status between Meyer’s vampires and werewolves reveals distinct prejudices toward the Quileute tribe, and due to lack of diversity, Native Americans as a whole. We quickly learn that vampires are endowed with a unique gift as a result of their transformation: Edward can read minds, Alice can see into the future, and Jasper can manipulate emotions, etc. This notion is further emphasized when the Volturi are introduced, as each is characterized by their unique ability more so than their personality. This contrasts significantly with the way that the werewolves are depicted. As soon as each Quileute becomes a werewolf they cut their hair, remove their shirt, and display the same tattoo on their shoulder. They are also burdened by sharing the thoughts of every other werewolf, becoming almost a singular entity–a hive mind. Moreover, when they transform into werewolves they are almost indistinguishable from one another, apart from their randomly assigned fur coloration. Once a person becomes a vampire they become more individual through their acquisition of a personalized new gift, whereas once a Quileute becomes a werewolf they become less of an individual and more of a unified image of otherness. The loss of identity also assigns greater sweeping values to the tribe as a whole, and because audiences have been educated to be ignorant of idiosyncrasies amongst Native American tribes, spectators assign these values to Native Americans as a whole. Wilson brings attention to the socio-economic disparity between vampires and werewolves, explaining that the werewolves are drastically different from vampires: “they are not the perfectly white, wealthy Cullens nor the powerful, aristocratic Volturi—they ‘live on the res’ in tiny houses, apparently can’t afford much clothing let alone the types of shiny cars the Cullens have by the dozen” (Parke, Wilson 198). The Quileutes are also depicted as being goofy, playful teenage boys, lacking the maturity and sophistication of their competitors. The Cullens are depicted as being highly educated and cultured, and extremely influenced by Western art (seen through Edward’s emotive recitation of Shakespeare in New Moon). They are romanticized to the point that they are positioned as aspirational figures for the population they function among, as well as white Western society in general. Their love of Western civilization, seen through their wealth, possession, and culture, advocates and justifies white supremacy and colonialism. Wilson also looks at the comparative focus of the Cullens and the Quileutes, explaining, “This dualistic representation of Bella’s two suitors not only animalizes one and deifies the other, it also reifies whiteness as next to godliness” (Parke, Wilson 199). The Quileutes instead are shown as being separate, lacking education, reveling in their quaint culture and traditions, and refusing to assimilate into the society that surrounds them. The fact that they refuse to cooperate with the Cullens in light of their positioning as elites among the inhabitants of Forks further suggests a stubborn refusal to be apart of Western society, which is a construction of colonial racism. Finally, the resolution at the end of Eclipse between Jacob and the Cullens, his healing by Carlisle, suggests a reluctant civilization of Jacob at the hands of the Cullens, leading the spectator to be “colonized by the saga” (Parke, Wilson 206).
In Eclipse we briefly learn the back-story behind the Quileutes and the Cullens, both of which contrast in a way that promotes the Cullens and their mystical and idealized whiteness. One of the best aspects about Eclipse is that the filmmakers give time to flesh out Quileute characters aside from Jacob. Though I have previously criticized the depiction of Native American martyrdom, Eclipse should be credited for a sympathetic look at Quileute history, albeit fictional. Stam and Spence interrogate the notion of “image scale and duration,” explaining that they are elaborately connected to “the respect afforded a character and the potential for audience sympathy, understanding and identification” (Braudy, Cohen 763). Though Stam and Spence avoid focusing solely on duration, it should be noted that by displaying a singular narrative history of one people, compared to a series of individualistic narratives from another, it assigns a reductive lack of history and complexity to the Quileute tribe. More importantly, the flashbacks of both Jasper and Rosalie Hale are far more seductive and empowering than the Quileutes’ back-story. Jasper is shown to be a noble and charismatic Confederate officer who is bewitched by three scantily clad women. This flashback emphasizes the greatness of his character before he was turned into a vampire, and the turning itself is portrayed in a highly sexualized and tantalizing manner. Rosalie’s story underscores the virtue of her character, and the tragedy of her demise. However, once she becomes a vampire she is empowered and theatrically murders the antagonists that caused her death. By contrast, Taha Aki’s story is quiet and tragic, climaxing with sacrifice rather than empowerment or sensuality. Taha’s supernatural powers were unable to save his race, whereas both Jasper and Rosalie were empowered by the supernatural in their respective back-stories.
The role of the supernatural deserves significant mention because it helps distract the resistant spectator from images of racism, and conceals these images from a more passive audience. Borgia posits that Meyer, through her adaption of vampire motifs and her romantic narrative, “configures racialized gender roles in a way that the contemporary US mainstream reading public would not be inclined to accept unless veiled with the cloak of the supernatural” (154-5). Borgia also alludes to a greater work at play that disguises the racist narrative and images in the series—the romantic narrative. I have previously looked at the uses of romantic melodrama conventions in conjunction with horror motifs, but the romantic nature of the films also helps promote a racist perspective. More than anything the films focus on romance. The trajectory of Bella and Edward’s relationship is established early on and, as I have previously discussed, the main antagonist in the story is anything that limits their love. The romance within the series also feels distinctly supernatural–as we frequently see Bella receiving visions and mystical warnings from Alice, both of which guide Bella in her romantic quest. Any disbelief surrounding Bella’s feelings toward Edward are effectively dissuaded by these otherworldly elements, as it seems as though a higher power is assisting their plight. The divine support of a union of a specific race is at the heart of American expectionalism and as such the use of the supernatural simultaneously disguises racism and champions whiteness. Stam and Spence criticize the depiction of Native Americans in Western films demonstrating that “the possibility of sympathetic identification with the Indians is simply ruled out by the point-of-view conventions. The spectator is unwillingly sutured into a colonialist perspective” (Braudy, Cohen 759). We view the films through Bella’s perspective, and it is through this point of view that we are most strongly persuaded.
Bella’s attraction to Jacob is based on his physical form and his otherness—both work to reduce him racially and convey negative values. The notion of ‘Team Jacob’ or ‘Team Edward’ has widely been popularized though T-shirts, websites, and media outlets open to fandom, which suggests a conflict of choice afforded to Bella. The legitimacy of the choice between these two supernatural teenagers can be argued easily enough, citing differing and diverse reasons for each candidate (though I would contend that many “Team Jacob” acolytes recognize, consciously or not, and resist the films’ racist ideology). But Bella sees Jacob and Edward in a distinct way, and as an audience we are given frequent and detailed information surrounding her perspective of each, guiding the audience in specific ways. It isn’t until New Moon that Bella begins to be sexually attracted to Jacob, and the fact that Jacob had seriously hit the gym recently wasn’t a coincidence. Bella makes frequent comments regarding his physique, and she articulates her physical attraction to him in response to seeing him shirtless. In Eclipse, Jacob is shown carrying her with his prominently featured biceps, while he uses his body heat to keep her warm atop a mountain. From the conception of their romantic relationship, Jacob’s physicality is always at the forefront. Bella also openly criticizes Jacob and his werewolf form when she is around Edward. In Eclipse, Bella is forced to spend time with Jacob so that she can avoid an attack from Victoria. In one instance, she returns from her activities with Jacob and apologizes to Edward, saying, “I know I smell like a dog, I’m sorry.” The Cullens frequently reduce the Quileutes to their animal form, but it is especially surprising that Bella would be so derogatory when she is supposed to like Jacob.
Bella instigating a relationship with Jacob also coincides with Edward’s departure, placing Jacob as a second best option and creating a racial comparison where Native Americans come in second to their superior colonizers. Bella’s motive therefore seems like an attempt to satisfy her need for intimacy, rather than genuine interest. Additionally, Bella’s relationship with Jacob revolves around his otherness. After risking her life on a motorbike ride, Bella gains an appetite for danger–something the phantom Edward isn’t keen on. This is directly followed with Bella starting to spend time with Jacob. These two scenes are linked by Bella driving to Jacob’s house, accompanied by a voiceover from Bella to Alice stating that danger helps her to see Edward. Just before Bella and Jacob greet each other, Bella utters to Alice, “If a rush of danger is what it takes to see him, then that’s what I’ll find,” followed by Bella and Jacob embracing. This scene again casts Jacob as an enemy, and underscores that he and his race—due to their lack of representation thus far—are a threat. This also plays on the white fear of interracial relationships, as nothing could be more infuriating to Edward than Bella dating a werewolf, an idea stressed by Edward’s gormless suicidal trip to Italy after hearing Jacob’s voice in Bella’s home. Stam and Spence suggest that the absence of white characters could be the result of white racism, which relates to Edward’s absence in New Moon. They suggest that some 1920s musicals excluded whites because “their mere presence would destroy the elaborate fabric of fantasy constructed by such films” (Braudy, Cohen 756). The same is true in New Moon as Edward’s absence allows for Bella to play out a fantasy relationship with Jacob, but once Edward returns, any romance or fantasy between Jacob and Bella quickly evaporates. The fact that there is barely any real competition between Edward and Jacob is worrying because the central reasons surrounding Bella’s attraction to Edward are extremely problematic.
Bella’s attraction to, and romanticized perspective of Edward centers on his embodiment of values related to whiteness and white supremacy. Borgia summarizes Bella’s attraction: “Edward’s attractiveness to Bella consists of all aspects of racial privilege, including wealth, status, and the ability to manipulate others” (166). A perfect embodiment of this is Edward’s reaction to seeing that Jacob had made Bella a wolf bracelet. Out of arrogant frustration, Edward buys Bella a gaudy diamond bracelet in an attempt at one-upmanship, stating, “It seems only fair that I be represented as well.” Instead of rolling her eyes at Edward’s juvenile act, Bella simply responds, “It’s beautiful,” suggesting her attraction to Edward’s materialism. Bella also seems to be drawn to the whiteness of Edward’s skin, being mesmerized by its luminescence. The most idyllic scenes between the two take place in meadows where Edward’s skin can catch daylight just perfectly. These images re-create the beauty of Edward from Bella’s point of view in an effort to persuade the audience to see Edward as Bella sees him. The strange dream that Bella receives at the opening of New Moon shows this, as her subconscious creates an idealized world where a romantic, sparkling Edward is present and accepted. When Bella awakes she is shown lying next to a copy of Romeo and Juliet, emphasizing Edward as the embodiment of romantic whiteness. Narratively, the films are written so that the traditional concepts of predator and prey, inherent to the vampire genre, are switched. Borgia states, “the disturbing messages of Twilight stem from this switch in its characterization of predator and prey: the deadly vampire is the one who deserves the reader’s pity” (154). Through Bella’s eyes, Edward is sympathized; we, the audience, are convinced to accept him as a tragic character, whilst being allured by his wealth, status, culture, and attributes that stem from his racial privilege. It is this dualistic representation of Edward through Bella’s perception that sutures us into a colonialist point of view.
The way that Bella views both Jacob and Edward displays strong racialized connotations, but her choice between the two, and how she formulates that choice by the end of Eclipse, sends the strongest message of white supremacy. Wilson looks at the potential that each suitor offers: “While Jacob represents a very earthly, bodily future for Bella, Edward represents a celestial one—one where Bella can be immortal and join the eternal Cullen family” (Parke, Wilson 199). In Bella’s eyes, Jacob represents the continuation of normality, whereas Edward represents the ability to become something more. At the end of Eclipse, Bella vocalizes this to Edward, explaining, “This was never a choice between you and Jacob. It’s between who I should be and who I am.” In this instance Bella reveals her true attraction toward Edward—that she can become a vampire through him. This desire to become is more destructive ideologically than her being attracted to Edward because he is a vampire. Bella’s idealized view of Edward compared to Jacob suddenly becomes her idealized view toward vampirism and all of the racial privilege attached to it. Bella suggests in this utterance that her current experience as a white teenage girl isn’t enough and that she desires to transcend her race and become a Cullen. It is through this scene that the message of white supremacy is communicated the strongest and retroactively contextualizes all of the films’ proceedings until this point. When reflecting on her experiences in the Cullens’s world, Bella concludes, “I’ve never felt stronger, more real, more myself, because it’s my world too. It’s where I belong.” Because we see the world through Bella’s eyes this then becomes the dominant reading of the films and “compels [the] spectator to identify with racist inscriptions” of Native Americans as well as virtues of white supremacy (Braudy, Cohen 769).
The closing scenes of Eclipse render Jacob, as well as his tribe, as minor antagonists in Bella’s true conquest, being pushed to the back and written “out of history” (Braudy, Cohen 757). Bella’s point of view, and her conquest to become a vampire relates to the historical portrayal of Native Americans in Westerns where films focused on a re-creation of “a past that never existed and on a future in which good triumphed and everyone lived happily ever after. Always there emerged the dominance, righteousness, and supremacy of the Anglo American—the white man” (Bataille, Silet 107). It is especially concerning that this trend of Native American depiction is still prevalent in a series that makes significant changes to mythology in order to appeal to modern, more racially liberal audience members. In addition to this, the fact that the films set themselves apart from other vampire and werewolf films through these adaptations and a specifically targeted spectatorship is extremely problematic because they send such a strong and specific message of white elitism that alienates not only Native Americans, but also all races and ideologies that don’t conform to its narrow interpretation of race.
Twilight. Dir. Catherine Hardwicke. Perf. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner. Summit Entertainment, 2008. DVD.
New Moon: The Twilight Saga. Dir. Chris Weitz. Perf. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner. Summit Entertainment, 2009. DVD.
Eclipse: The Twilight Saga. Dir. David Slade. Perf. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner. Summit Entertainment, 2010. DVD.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 1. Dir. Bill Condon. Perf. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner. Summit Entertainment, 2012. DVD.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn: Part 2. Dir. Bill Condon. Perf. Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner. Summit Entertainment, 2013. DVD.
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