Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What “New Moon” Isn’t

This weekend, I finally sat down and watched New Moon.  I have wanted to see it for awhile, however; I was far to busy until now.  Recently, Anne wrote a post on feministing regarding the character of Emily, Sam’s love interest in the movie.

image Bella is taken to Emily’s house after an incident with Paul in which he lost his temper and shifted into a werewolf, thus presenting a legitimate threat to Bella’s safety.  Upon arrival, one of the wolves asks her not to stare at Emily.  Her injuries are the result of Sam losing control for a few seconds while she was standing too close.

Anne wrote:

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.)

First let me say unequivocally that Anne is absolutely one hundred percent right when she speaks about the violence that First Nation women face.  Where our opinion veers off, is when she starts to speak about anger.  Rage is something that continually keeps being misunderstood when privileged feminist speak about violence. 

First, we need to respect and understand that rage is a legitimate emotion.  It seems that in this culture, the only people that are allowed to be angry are White men.   When people of color are angry, it is seen as marker of savagery rather than an indication that anger is just one part of a spectrum of human emotions, which we all experience on a daily basis.  Unless you walk through this world anesthetised, at some point you will get angry.

Though Sam has the ability to change into a werewolf, it does not mean that he has become a machine without emotion.  What was said in the movie is that he was angry at Emily when he lost control and she was standing too close.  It did not suggest that he intended to hit her in his fit of rage but that he lost control of his bodily functions.  Have you never been so angry that your body has trembled with rage?  Have you never been so angry that you have started to cry?  Bodies will react differently to stress and in the case of Sam, turning into a werewolf is the result.

image I could understand if Meyer had made some attempt to justify violence against First Nations women but that is not what she did.  She said that Sam lost his temper for a few seconds and this is result.  In fact, in the book, it is very clear that not only is Sam extremely sorry but that he feels guilt over the incident. Even when Paul changed in front of Bella she had to take a few steps back before he went into attack mode because she realized being that close was dangerous.  I think it is important not to forget that we are talking about a mythical person and not a real man.  There is not a Sam the werewolf running around.

As anti-racists it is important to understand the social constructions that are embedded in bodies of color but in so doing we must still leave room for the ability to understand that just like Whiteness,  POC experience the gamut of emotions.  Tell me one relationship, in which one party has never expressed anger at the other.  I love the unhusband dearly, but no one even comes close to pushing my buttons the way he can because he knows me intimately.  Sam got angry at Emily and this anger was the source of his metamorphosis. 

The Twilight series is far from perfect, however; this is not one of the many faults that it has.   When Meyer decided to give the werewolf mythology to this tribe that had nothing to do with her traditions, she was engaging in act of racism.  Sam is a werewolf and I fail to see how such a mythical being could be anything but dangerous, no matter which body had the ability to change.  In the Sookie Stackhouse series, the werewolves are all White and they are EQUALLY dangerous.  In moments of stress, anger or agitation, they change their physical form.  It is easy to jump on Twilight because it’s full of problematic messages, however; when we take the time to criticize, we should also be aware that we are talking about mythical creatures and factor that into our critique.