Wednesday, July 21, 2010
So, a lot of people have been asking me what I think of the Twilight Saga. In case you've been living in a bomb shelter and are unfamiliar with the pop-culture phenomenon, it's a series of books, now made movies, about a teenage girl's love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf. What does that have to do with this blog? Well, the werewolf is Native American. To be more specific, he's a member of a "pack" of Quileute tribal members who magically transform into wolves and are the natural enemies of "the cold ones" (vampires). The movies include some Native actors with minor speaking rolls, sooo totally relevant.
There have been three movies made so far. I've now seen the first (Twilight) and the third (Eclipse). Both experiences were extremely painful to my eyes, ears, brain, and soul. My review of Eclipse follows (scroll down to "The Ugly" if you want to skip to the Native parts):
Well, since Twilight, the franchise has gotten a new director, and a new casting director. The directing is... somewhat better? Specifically, there are fewer just completely awkward moments and transitions. The casting.. well, ok so they got the casting director from Dances with Wolves because of her experience in finding and hiring real Native American actors. So Kudos for that.
More hotness: Jacob, the lead Native American character played by Taylor Lautner, has gotten even more muscle-y and basically never wears a shirt in the movie. The "wolfpack", consisting of real Native actors, are also in better shape since the 2nd movie, New Moon, or so I hear. They literally are never wearing shirts in the whole movie. (But they're only in like 3 scenes sooo....)
Edward (the lead vamp) never calls the ingenue "Spider Monkey".
Jacob lost that stupid wig from the first movie.
The effects are TERRIBLE. That crappy stuff you've seen on made-for-the-sy-fy-channel-movies: NOT EVEN CLOSE to as bad as this movie. You'd think with all the money they made off the first two, they could have afforded some quality special effects. I mean the wolves are positively hilarious looking. And WHY are they the size of HORSES?
The acting: Ok, Edward, played by Robert Pattinson, is not so bad. Of the principal characters, he's definitely the best actor, though that isn't saying much. Bella (the ingenue), played by Kristin Stewart, isn't unwatchable, but she is un-listenable. I mean, she's got the angsty, awkward, love sick look down to a tee, but her vocal performance is totally one noted. She stays basically monotone. The worst part are her voice overs, which, no matter what she is saying, sound like she's on about a gazillion anti-depressants and just barely interested in whatever she is saying. Jacob, our Quileute hero, played by Taylor Lautner, is just plain atrocious. I mean... it is terrible. I can't even explain how bad his acting is, you just have to see it.
The voiceovers: uhm, so I have a real issue with voiceovers as a device in movies in general. Usually, with a very few exceptions like Big Fish and American Beauty, voiceovers are a necessary crutch for a terrible script. The copious use of voiceover means that the scriptwriter and later the director, were too lazy/untalented to come up with a way of portraying on film whatever is being said in voice over. So, in Eclipse, we have a couple of instances of Bella, in voice over, telling us how she feels about this or that, when we should be able to gleen her feelings from oh.. I don't know... the acting and the action on screen. A voice over every now and then is fine, if it adds something to a movie, or if it covers a long period of time, but when it is filling in for things like good acting and good directing... bad bad bad.
Alright, you've stuck with me this long, now you finally get to hear what I think of the whole Native American aspect in this film. Most of these comments apply to the entire series of books and movies...
First off, let me complain about the main Native American character being played by a white guy (who can't act) who said this. Ok, so there's a long history of non-Native actors playing Natives in movies and here's some of why I have a problem with it. One, they are taking rolls from talented Native actors. Two, black face is no longer acceptable, nor is eye taping for yellow face, why is red face? Three, it makes viewers think that there aren't any talented Native actors. Now, I could spend an entire blog post on each of those but I won't bore you.
Second, the real Native actors are barely in the movie. Like, they have about one line each.
Three, and I realize I also put this under good, but the young men Quileutes are never wearing shirts! What's the problem? Well this continues a tradition in American pop culture that eroticizes Native men, see romance novels. Ok, so isn't it a good thing to be consider sexy? Well, not when that's your only representation. I need to explain further. In the story, featuring a love triangle between Edward, Bella, and Jacob, we get a fairly classic Romance-novel theme. Bella must choose between the refined, controlled, romantic Edward (who is white, btw), and the impulsive, lusty, shirtless Jacob (brown). In romance fiction, the person of color is almost always portrayed as the impulsive, lusty one. Native Americans get the whole wild, savage beat too. So, while it's great to be considered sexy, it's not so great to be though of as impulsive, not in control of your lust (Jacob forces a kiss on Bella until she punches him in the face), and hot-headed.
Fourth, the Native Americans turn into wolves for chrissakes. Can we say STEREOTYPE? Look, ok, we are magical forest creatures intimately connected with nature and all, and of course we are animal-like! We're noble savages! We imprint on people like ducks... What the? Ok, if this was a group of white people who turned into wolves then they'd be cool shapeshifters, but the stereotypes of Native Americans as mythical nature fairies adds another dimension. We've already been placed in the realm of fiction enough that some Americans forget we really exist.. in like a contemporary way, just look at Peter Pan. Not only that, but these Natives constantly possess many of the animal attributes of the wolf, like the aforementioned impulsivity and imprinting. In short, this story paints Native Americans as closer to being animals than human. It's a slippery slope back to when people of color were considered by scientists to be sub-human, and were treated thus by society. I know that sounds extreme, but these can be the unconscious connections people make.
Fifth, oh for the love of god for some people this is their only exposure to Native Americans and they think we turn into wolves! OH THE HUMANITY!
Sixth, the author of the books, Stephanie Meyer, "borrowed" a Quileute legend about "cold ones" and ran with it. Now, the Quileute are at least enjoying a great deal of tourism, but they also are having to explain to everyone the real legend, and their real culture. Suffice it to say, they do not have secret council meetings discussing vampires and turning into wolves.
Seventh, Bella gets to be the first ever outsider admitted to a secret Quileute pack council meeting. Why? Because Jacob wants her to hear the story of how they became enemies of the vampires. Now... why couldn't he have just told her that? Why did she have to be the only non-Quileute allowed in on a secret meeting? Because, Bella is SPECIAL. She's soooo special that a vampire inexplicably falls in love with her, and other vampires want to kill her.
Eighth, what makes Bella special? I HAVE NO IDEA. She's an awkward, hipster-ish, not particularly attractive, not particularly smart, not feisty teenage girl. She isn't a slayer like Buffy, she isn't a telepath like Sookie, she isn't super attractive and intelligent like Anne Rice characters that draw the attention of Vampires. There really is NO reason ever given as to why everyone is falling in love with her/or trying to kill her. This is why I can't call her a heroine. At least they didn't adopt her into the tribe.