As Twilight celebrates its tenth anniversary, new details are coming out about the outrageously successful film adaptations of the original book series. In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, Catherine Hardwicke, the director of the first Twilight film, spoke about Twilight's lack of diversity and how sexism in the film industry affected her experience making the movies.
When the first Twilight film was being made, there were extremely low expectations about the success of the film. Despite the popularity of the novels, predictions surrounding its potential to make money were slim. No doubt this is linked to the sexist stereotype that women's and teen girls' interests are frivolous.
Hardwicke emphasizes this point, suggesting that the only reason she was given the opportunity to direct in the first place was the lack of seriousness and the perceived "low stakes" surrounding Twilight. She says:
"Why do you think I got the job… Why do you think they hired a female director? If they thought it was going to be a big blockbuster, they wouldn’t have ever even hired me, because no woman had ever been hired to do something in the blockbuster category."
As we all know, the film was met with instantaneous success. It went on to receive $393 million worldwide, and the relatively unknown co-stars, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, shot to immediate fame. You’d think this would be a pivotal moment for Hardwicke; however, that isn’t exactly how it played out.
In stark contrast to the praise her male cohorts received for producing similarly successful films, Hardwicke was met with criticism for being “too difficult.” In the interview, she reflects on going into her studio, The Summit Company, the weekend after Twilight was released:
"When I went in I saw that there were massive bouquets and balloons and bottles of wine… crazy gifts sent to them by all the distributors around the world or whoever… So I actually had it in my mind, wow, this is a pretty unprecedented success. I had heard these rumors that when a director does something like this they give them a car, they give them a two-picture deal...They give them an office and ask what they want to do after this… And then I got a mini cupcake that day."
Honestly, a mini cupcake is an amazing metaphor for the public reception of a woman’s success. But all jokes aside, this is real life.
Hardwicke didn’t go on to direct the consecutive Twilight films, and the directors that followed in her footsteps for the next four installments were all men (who would have guessed?). Hardwicke says she doesn’t regret this, as tensions were mounting surrounding the creative direction of the films.
Some of these tensions weren’t new, specifically ones surrounding Hardwicke’s visions for a more diverse cast, which were shot down by Twilight author Stephenie Meyer. While Hardwicke fantasized about a cast that demonstrated inclusivity, reflecting on how she wanted Alice to be Japanese, along with other various ideas, Meyer disagreed. Hardwicke says that Meyer stated that she “had not really written it that way,” and was attached to the novel's description of the vampires' “pale glistening skin.”
This opens up a larger dialogue surrounding color-coding in the films, which Melissa Burkley writes about in a 2011 article titled "Is Twilight Prejudiced?" in Psychology Today. The series has a fixation on the vampires' glowing, white skin, and subsequently that skins' representative link to purity, flawlessness and beauty. In contrast, we see the Native American characters represent something darker, untame, and more unruly: the wolves. Some would argue about the unintentionality of these decisions, but the racial connotations and implications are a structural element of how Hollywood films have operated for decades.
So here’s the age-old question: is anyone surprised by Hardwicke's revelations?
That’s unlikely. It’s common knowledge that inequalities exist in the film industry. The covert ways racism operates, pay disparities, lack of opportunities for women in the creative fields (or just about any, let's be real)—none of this is new. But what Hardwicke's experiences ultimately highlights is a major flaw: a lack of understanding that audiences are changing, narratives are shifting, and consumers have power. We've grown tired of the male vision, only seeing white people, and the banal stories we've seen represented time and time again. We're waiting, we're watching, and we're 100 percent here for a change.
top photo: Twilight
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Madera Rhayne is a queer writer and multi-media artist living in Brooklyn, NY. You can find her at mjrhayne.com, on Instagram @hol0gram_ and contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.