Monday, December 14, 2009

I would be on Team Jacob,

but he is only marginally less controlling and manipulative than Edward.

I did see New Moon this weekend, and it left me with one major question: why can't Bella drive herself home? Half the guys in the movie were driving her truck, even though it was her truck. Is Bella incapable of driving her own vehicle if a male character has a scene with her?

The rest of my concerns, and other people's concerns, were covered in the following articles and in the comments underneath them:

New Moon: Old Story?
, by Wendi Muse, Racialicious.

[ . . . ] If anything, the title itself adds an ironic twist to a tale that spirals into a stereotypical narrative to which we are all well-conditioned by now, both in films and other more readily-available media in our every day lives. Have you ever heard something along the lines of “dating someone who is [insert ethnic/racial group] ok, but you’d better not marry one!” or “Native Americans are so in touch with nature!”? Have you ever seen a film or tv show that relegated the person of color as the trusty sidekick, loyal friend, or temporary romantic plaything, only then to have the white hero enter in medias res and get all the praise and attention? Have you ever seen a piece from an ad campaign or historical policy discussions in which non-white people are portrayed as animalistic, in both their behavior, thought processes, and athletic ability? Have you, as a person of color, or if you are not, any of your POC friends, ever complained of feeling that their societal value was reduced to their physical appearance or a specific body part?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you have already seen New Moon.

[ . . . ]

But beyond all the drama, there is a story that we have seen played out countless times in every other movie, tv show, etc. that decides to employ a character of color, only to put them on time out when the fun really begins. Despite being abandoned by her (technically) dead boyfriend, Bella, in true masochistic form, continues to go after him, even though living and breathing Jacob is a better choice for a beau. Not only is he charismatic, attractive, and fun, he can protect Bella too, which seems to be at the crux of her very existence. Playing the damsel in distress is Bella’s forte, so Jacob could fit the bill as a boyfriend who would suit her most important need. Yet his big character flaw, beyond actually being interested in Bella, is the fact that he’s not white.

Yes, poor Jacob, as “beautiful” (Bella’s words) and awesome as he may be, is one of the Quileute, an indigenous group of the northern Pacific coast. While it’s not explicitly stated in the film that this is the reason Bella doesn’t continue the relationship with Jacob, any audience member who knows a little bit about American film already knows quite well that it’s a rare case when a main character of color, especially if surrounded by other main characters who are white, actually succeeds in the end and remains a romantic interest. [ . . . ]

It was particularly heartwarming when Bella's best vampire friend Alice calls Jacob's family "a pack of mutts" and refuses to continue her conversation with Bella until she "puts the dog out." Which Bella does.

Also, the one black guy in the movie has less than 10 minutes of screen time before he was killed. By the Native Americans/werewolves.


New Moon, Same Old Sexist Story, by Carmen D. Siering and Katherine Spillar, Ms. Magazine.

Bella doesn’t come across as an empowered young woman in New Moon, especially as she uses one man to get over another. And yet, as Ms. pointed out in our Spring 2009 article “Taking a Bite Out of Twilight,” Meyer has insisted that she sees Bella as a feminist character, writing on her website that in her opinion the foundation of feminism is being able to choose. But what Meyer fails to acknowledge is that all the choices Bella makes are the one’s Meyer would make—choices based perhaps on her background as a member of the highly patriarchal Mormon church.

This is a film full of gender stereotypes—testosterone-driven male aggression, females who pine away over lost loves, boys who fix motorcycles and the girls who watch them. The one role-reversal in New Moon, where Bella saves Edward for a change, is immediately negated when Bella’s low self-esteem takes center stage. Even as Edward declares his love to her, Bella deems herself “unworthy” of it, being simply human while he’s a vampire and all. Perpetuating the idea that this is true love—torturous, painful, and unrequited—is detrimental to all of us, women and men.


New Moon and domestic violence, by Ann, Feministing.

[ . . . ] 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.)


1 comment:

Asian Americanist said...

Meh, funny thing is that the whole subgenre of urban fantasy, or rather paranormal romance, is pretty much just this.

Anita Blake anyone?