So I saw the latest Twilight movie, New Moon, this weekend.*
I was prepared for the manipulative relationship between the protagonist Bella and her sparkly vampire bf Edward. I was prepared for not-exactly-feminist messages about centering your life around men. I was prepared for seriously awful acting and dialogue (the Academy really needs to institute a "Best Unintentional Comedy" Oscar category -- it would be a tight race between New Moon and Terminator Salvation).
However, I was not prepared for the way the movie portrays physical relationship violence, particularly in Native communities. For all the talk of Edward's abusiveness throughout feminist blogworld, I've seen much less written about domestic violence as it relates to the film's competing love interest, Jacob Black -- a 16-year-old Quileute boy who can turn into a werewolf.
At one point in the movie, Bella meets Emily, the fiance of one of Jacob's fellow werewolf-men. As she turns to put a plate of giant muffins on the table, we see that she has a massive scar on one half of her face:
After breakfast, once Jacob and Bella are alone in the car, Jacob explains that Emily's soon-to-be husband lost his temper "for a split second," became a werewolf, and mauled her. (Earlier in the film, he has told Bella that this whole turning-into-a-werewolf-when-you-get-angry thing is actually a genetic trait carried by many men in his community.) He explains that he's worried that he's bad for Bella because he doesn't know if he can control his own anger.
It's more than a little problematic for New Moon to portray violence as an endemic trait among Native men. Yes, domestic violence is a very real problem in American Indian communities. According to Sacred Circle, Native women are more likely to experience violence than any other U.S. population. A full 64 percent of American Indian women will be physically assaulted in their lifetime. They are also stalked at more than twice the rate of other women. But to imply that this is a result of Native people's genes rather than related to other issues such as drug and alcohol abuse, or centuries of racism and marginalization, is inexcusable. (See Latoya's post on Jacob Black for more on Twilight's treatment of Native communities.)
This theme of uncontrollable tempers and violence is also disturbing in the context of the film's Edward vs. Jacob set-up. Bella's options, as New Moon portrays them, are essentially to become a blood-sucking monster by marrying the patronizing, emotionally manipulative Edward or to risk her safety by choosing the patronizing, possibly physically violent Jacob. Oh how I wish for a third option: Emily and Bella bake muffins for each other and find fulfilling lives that are centered on them, not men with fangs. Sadly, I'm guessing that's not where Eclipse, the next book/movie in the series, is going to go. Maybe I need to start writing feminist fan-fic.
* Yes, I knew going in that this was not a triumph of feminist cinema. But given what a major pop-culture phenomenon Twilight is, especially among tween girls, I do think it's important for feminists to engage with it, not bury our heads in the sand and pretend it's not happening.
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