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…
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
“This is historical. This is going to be imprinted on people’s lives for generations to come,” Counsell-Geyer said. IMPRINTED? IMPRINTED? DOES THAT WORD CHOICE INDICATE THE TRIBAL CHAIRWOMAN IS A-OK WITH THE IMPRINTING THEME IN THE SAGA WHERE THE QUILEUTE ARE YOUR BASIC CREEPY POLYGAMOUS PEDOPHILE TYPES? WHAT A MESSAGE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS…
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.”
“This is going to be imprinted on people’s lives for generations to come,” Chairwoman Counsell-Geyer said. YES, WHAT A THING TO CELEBRATE, NOW “GENERATIONS TO COME” CAN VIEW THE QUILEUTE PEOPLE AS HALF ANIMALS PRONE TO VIOLENCE (ESPECIALLY AGAINST WOMEN) WHO “IMPRINT” ON THE TODDLER SET. WAHOO!