Cinematic Chat: the “‘Twilight’ Renaissance” and racism

by Elsa Ying (’23)|November 19, 2021

Art by Caitlin Chan (’22)

Stephanie Meyer, the author of Twilight, started one of the most recognizable franchises of the early 2010s. Not only did Meyer’s original four-book series achieve huge commercial success, but also the film franchise that followed all but cemented Twilight’s place in pop culture. However, its widespread popularity also instigated a wave of hate heavily laced with misogyny. Still, Twilight proved a formidable force, influencing much of the teen-focused media produced in its wake before finally losing traction in the popular sphere—or so everyone thought.

In late 2020, Meyer released her new book also set in the Twilight world, entitled Midnight Sun. The release quickly sparked the so-called “Twilight Renaissance,” a name for the huge resurgence in Twilight’s popularity. This time, fans themselves were poking fun at the plot holes and bad storylines with a much more ironic edge to their love of the franchise. Overall, the 2020 revival of Twilight reflected the state of pop culture at the time—ironic, unconventional, and heavily nostalgic.

However, the Twilight Renaissance also highlighted society’s growing awareness of race and forced audiences to re-examine the original text with regards to character Jacob Black and the Quileute tribe to which he belongs. Native and non-Native readers alike began to discuss the harmful impact of indigenous men being equated to savage animals, especially since Stephanie Meyer essentially stole the name and reputation of Quileutes, an existing tribe. Among a plethora of concerns was how Jacob, a young Native teenager, was not only heavily sexualized but also portrayed as a predator with anger issues, especially in juxtaposition with Bella Swan, a white female. Furthermore, Jacob was played by white actor Taylor Lautner in the five-film blockbuster series, denying indigenous actors an important opportunity for representation in the film industry.

This acknowledgement of Meyer’s harmful representation of the Quileute tribe was demonstrated in the number of avid fans who began to donate to the tribe’s Move to Higher Ground fundraiser, which aims to help them relocate from a tsunami zone. However, the stark contrast between their donations and their continual indirect support of Meyer begs the question—is it possible to separate art from the artist?

Fans in 2020 obviously had a more socially conscious approach to Twilight, but by continuing to make content about Meyer’s work, they were still technically supporting her by increasing Twilight’s popularity and reach. Some might argue that the continuous denunciation, heavy-handed criticism, and—at times—mockery of Meyer herself have negated any benefits for the author. Also, most of the merchandise sold had been either independently made by small creators or found and sold secondhand. Other than book sales to new fans, Meyer technically did not receive any of the profits. Additionally, Twilight seemed to be following the path of Harry Potter with the phenomenon of “divorcing the author.” That is to say, Twilight fans have begun to “establish” popular theories as “canon,” especially when these personal perspectives directly contradict the original text or films.

Still, the so-called “Renaissance” lasted long enough for Meyer to release Midnight Sun, which is centered around the heavily controversial relationship between Jacob and the child of Bella and Edward. From interviews and snippets, fans have deduced that this new installment will likely perpetuate the extremely outdated and racist portrayals of the original series.

So, is it okay to “support” Twilight, and what does support even look like? There certainly isn’t—and shouldn’t be—an unanimous answer to either question, as every member of the current audience has their own perspective and attachment to the franchise. Still, it’s important to acknowledge the harm that Meyer has caused and continues to cause with this series. As with all media consumption, the decision of which actions will best align with one’s moral code should ultimately be left up to the individual. However, as a collective whole, Twilight fans can make an increased effort to amplify Native voices, especially those of the Quileute people, and find the personal balance between media consumption and social awareness.

Categories: Column, Entertainment

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