The essay won second prize in the Cinema and Media Studies competition in the winter of 2020. The jury hopes you enjoy it as much as we did.
New Moon is the second film in the Twilight movie series and is based on the novels by Stephanie Meyer. This film concerns a love triangle between a vampire (Edward), a human (Bella), and a werewolf (Jacob) that was established in the first film of this series. The story that began in Twilight expands in New Moon, including a more in-depth look at the traditions and stories of the Indigenous Quileute tribe. In New Moon, the audience learns that the Quileute people possess the ability to transform into wolves, having superhuman powers in both human and wolf form (Weitz, 2009). There is a very prominent colonial gaze present in this film, as the Quileute men are oversexualized and perceived as dangerous to others. Furthermore, the representation of Indigenous people in this film is problematic: it leaves impressions in young minds about Indigenous culture and portrays Native Americans in tropes such as the “Magical Indian”, the “Romantic Savage”, and the “Ignoble Savage”. This paper will look at these three tropes, analyzing ways the author and director reinforce stereotypes of Indigenous people to create a story from a non-Indigenous perspective.
The majority of the Indigenous characters in New Moon are played by Indigenous actors and are not seen wearing beads, braids, or buckskin. Other stereotypes such as the four D’s are excluded from this film as the Quileute tribe is not depicted as dancing, drumming, drunk or dead. However, the trope of the magical Indian almost completely cancels out any progress made in the representation of Indigenous people in the Twilight film series. The werewolves in New Moon are fictional members of the real-life Quileute tribe in La Push, Washington. Although the Quileute tribe in New Moon is based on the real Native American tribe, this film’s depiction associates Quileute people’s current lives, history and traditions with wolves and magic. In this alternative reality created by author Stephanie Meyers, the members of the Quileute wolf-pack have the ability to transform into werewolves. In legends and stories, Indigenous people who turn into animals are referred to as “skin walkers”, which is a Navajo term for this ability (Little 2016). In human form, the Quileute wolf-pack are extremely fast and strong with elevated body heat, the ability to heal rapidly, and aging that is put on hold while they shapeshift. Additionally, in wolf form they possess telepathic abilities with the rest of their pack, as well as the capability to transform into a massive, fast, and strong animal. As Becky Little wrote in her article, Native Americans to J.K. Rowling: We’re Not Magical, “[Indigenous people] are … fighting every day for the protection of our sacred sites from being destroyed…if Indigenous spirituality becomes conflated with fantasy ‘magic’—how can we expect lawmakers and the public to be allies in the protection of these spaces?” (Little 2016). The genre of fiction and fantasy is extremely popular with younger readers, but fantasy goes hand in hand with fiction, and depicting an ethnicity, race, religion or gender as fictional is inappropriate (Little 2016). Therefore, the presence of the “Magical Indian” trope in New Moon does a significant amount of damage, creating the perception that Indigenous people only exist in modern society with secret Indigenous magical powers. While New Moon is said to portray an accurate image of Indigenous people, the depiction of the Quileute people as magical is hardly authentic or helpful to the Indigenous community. Whether intentional or not, this film promotes the othering of Indigenous people as mysterious outsiders in contemporary society.
Another stereotypical trope seen in New Moon is the “Romantic Savage” trope, embodied by Jacob Black. This trope is described in The Great American Love Affair: Indians in the Twilight Saga by Brianna Burke as a “lost soul, caught between the pressures of civilization and tradition. He is passionate, always attractive… at one with nature, and still – if threatened – capable of savage violence” (Burke 2011). Throughout New Moon, Jacob is lost in his passion for Bella and his feelings are torn between the civilization of a regular life and the tradition of being a werewolf. Furthermore, Jacob is extremely eye-catching, usually found in the forest, and capable of doing irreparable damage when he transforms into a werewolf. Jacob clearly fits into all of these categories of the “Romantic Savage”, which is a trope that goes hand-in-hand with scopophilia and the gaze (Mulvey 1989). In contrast to the male gaze, a concept in critical film theory developed by Laura Mulvey, there is an oversexualized female gaze in New Moon. While the Cullen vampires are all Caucasian and modestly clothed in this film, the Quileute werewolves are always half naked to show off their attractive bodies. Additionally, New Moon’s intended audience is teenagers, specifically teenaged girls. The female gaze is directed at Jacob and the wolfpack: multiple times in the film, Bella calls Jacob buff and beautiful. This gaze oversexualizes Indigenous men, which is extremely problematic, as it misrepresents Indigenous people as functioning in films to serve as the object of an audience’s gaze. In New Moon, the “Romantic Savage” trope is amplified by the female gaze as it objectifies the Indigenous characters and romanticizes them as beautiful lost souls that are one with nature.
The trope of the “Ignoble Savage” is seen in New Moon, and while the Quileute are not bloodthirsty or evil, they are portrayed as reckless beasts with anger issues. In New Moon, there is a general aura of fear and danger surrounding the town of Forks, with news of animal attacks and sightings of large creatures in the woods. Although these attacks have been carried out by vampires, not werewolves, the film does not make this distinction clear until about halfway through. Apart from being associated with mass animal attacks, the Quileute pack involuntarily transform into animals when they are overcome with anger and seen to have no control. For example, the alpha of the pack, Sam Uley, once lost control of his anger around his fiancé, Emily, and he transformed into a werewolf and injured her in the process. This trope exemplifies the misrepresentation of Indigenous people as perpetrators of domestic violence and makes them out to be uncivilized, which further alienates them from society. Furthermore, the love triangle between Edward, Bella and Jacob introduces a petty feud between Jacob and Edward. While Edward is diplomatic towards Jacob and very mature in his actions, Jacob harbours great bitterness and resentment towards Edward. This contrast between Bella’s two love interests can also be perceived as a symbolic representation of white settler and Native American conflict: the discriminatory narrative of the sophisticated white man versus the bloodthirsty Indian. The “Ignoble Savage” trope wrongly depicts Indigenous people as instinctively hostile and unreasonable. This perpetuates the racist stereotype that Indigenous people are unpredictable, violent, and therefore not fit for modern society.
Furthermore, the director and author fail to give the Indigenous characters aside from Jacob the individuality or narrative arc that they offer the vampire characters. While each of the members of the Cullen clan are distinct and unique with their personalities and wardrobe, the wolfpack are generally interchangeable, as they are not provided with any particular character traits and all wear identical clothes. This further amplifies the contrast between the Native characters and the Cullen vampires, and dehumanizes Indigenous characters just as much as the “Ignoble Savage” trope does. As mentioned in the blog, Bird Law, this depicts Native characters as less important in the minds of viewers because their characters are not as clearly drawn or integral to the story (Dragon 2012). Also, it further supports the dehumanization of Indigenous people by denying Indigenous characters individuality or character development.
The author of the Twilight Saga, Stephanie Meyer, established a foundation of racism that this saga is built on. It was not her original intention to include Native characters in her book, but she stumbled upon the Quileute tribe while researching a setting for her story to take place and decided to include them in her story to advance the aura of magic in her plot (Meyer), not to advance the representation of Indigenous people. New Moon has gained praise for its depiction and inclusion of Indigenous people. However, Indigenous representation in New Moon is laced with racism and only confirms the issues that arise when non-Indigenous people attempt to tell the stories of Indigenous people. The Twilight Saga, especially New Moon, use alienating tropes such as the “Magical Indian”, the “Romantic Savage”, and the “Ignoble Savage” to keep Indigenous people trapped in the outskirts of society, marginalized by the depictions of them in film, television and other media sources.
Burke, Brianna. “The Great American Love Affair: Indians in the Twilight Saga.” Bringing Light to Twilight (2011): 208. Web.
Dragon. “Bad Reputations. Racism in the Twilight Series.” Bird Law, 8 May 2012, notgovernedbyreason.blogspot.com/2012/05/bad-reputations-racism-in-twilight.html.
Little, Becky. “Native Americans to J.K. Rowling: We’re Not Magical.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 11 Mar. 2016, news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160311-history-of-magic-in-north-america-jk-rowling-native-american-stereotypes/.
Meyer, Stephenie. “The Story of Twilight & Getting Published.” Stephenie Meyer, stepheniemeyer.com/the-story-of-twilight-getting-published/.
Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures. Indiana UP, 1989.
Weitz, Chris, director. The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Summit Entertainment, 2009. Netflix.