It has been ten long-ass years since Edward Cullen and Bella Swan sauntered on into our lives and sent a horde of thirsty teens off their rockers with infatuation.
Ten years since Team Edward and Team Jacob became a thing.
Ten years since we first encountered sparkly Robert Pattinson.
And ten years, reportedly, since Stephenie Meyer shut down attempts by director Catherine Hardwicke to diversify the cast for the film franchise.
If you’ve been on the interwebs recently, you may have come across a viral interview Hardwicke did with The Daily Beast in which she alleged that despite her best attempts, the Twilight author was rigid in her vision of the Cullens being an all-white family.
“And I was like oh my God, I want the vampires, I want them all—Alice, I wanted her to be Japanese! I had all these ideas,” she told the publication.
“And she [Meyer] just could not accept the Cullens to be more diverse, because she had really seen them in her mind, she knew who each character was representing in a way, a personal friend or a relative or something.
“She said, ‘I wrote that they had this pale glistening skin!’”
Hardwicke went on to state that the only successes she had with casting people of colour were with villain Laurent and other minor roles…which is hardly a major win.
“The only reason that came through was he [Laurent] was described as having olive skin. And I said, ‘There are black olives out there!’ Then she was open to the students in [Bella’s] peer group being other ethnicities, so we got Christian Serratos and Justin Chon, so we were able to open it up a little bit.”
The claims, understandably, got fans talking about the failings of the Twilight saga: lack of representation, Hardwicke being replaced by male directors even after the success of the first film, Bella’s problematic passiveness, the god-awful wigs… and the list goes on.
Okay, I may have added the wigs in there myself.
Unsurprisingly, the online chatter seemed to influence Comic-Con New York’s Twilight 10th Anniversary Panel, with the conversation turning to diversity and women in Hollywood more than once.
The panel reunited Hardwicke with cast members Kellan Lutz (Emmett Cullen), Jackson Rathbone (Jasper Cullen) and Edi Gathegi (Laurent) who each reflected on their experience with the films, hinting that for all its shortcomings (and there are a few), Twilight did inspire change.
“For me, it’s incredible to be a part of something that is shaping the culture. It was a pop culture phenomenon,” Gathegi told the audience of screaming millennials who had seemingly reverted to their 13-year-old selves.
“Catherine said earlier how this was in many ways, one piece of the puzzle that opened up the door for other projects that would follow. So, I like to think that that’s true. That this sort of began, or in many ways continued to further the conversation that we’re having today about diversity and inclusion and female-led projects.”
“And I would say on that note, the movie I just directed stars a Latina female, Gina Rodriguez, in a studio movie which is not very common,” added Hardwicke. “It’s called Miss Bala – go see it in January – but Gina is a badass and I don’t think we would have had that movie, a Latina lead, if we didn’t have this one.”
I chatted to a couple of young fans at the Twilight panel, Daya and Claudia, to gauge their views on the backlash.
“When Twilight was first coming out, we were about eleven to fourteen,” Claudia said.
“And so, maybe we were slightly below the age where we would care about that kind of stuff. But nowadays, there’s a whole group of fans coming in who won’t tolerate non-diverse cast because we want things that represent the world around us.
“I mean, that was the same problem with J.K Rowling, we were talking about it the other day,” Daya added.
“Looking back on Harry Potter, the fans now are like, ‘Why was there not more LGBTQ representation? Why was there not a more diverse cast?’
“As Claudia said, when we were younger we just took everything as it came, really. It wasn’t something that was at the top of our heads… Everyone just let things slide. Whereas now, now we’re just so much more socially aware.”
Their main takeaway was that yes, there were problems with Twilight (much like many other popular productions from a few years back) and yeah, they’ve had to rethink their opinions of Meyer, but the film is “ten years old – it’s old news”.
What remains true, both in the comments on the Twilight panel and the words of these fans, is that it’s important to use past failings to push for better, more inclusive projects going forward.
And discussions like the ones Hardwicke’s comments sparked are a real big part of that.