This article was originally published in December 2009.
Say what you will about the Twilight franchise — and there’s a lot you can say — one of the positives of the series is its prominent Native American characters, including a romantic lead.
And since you can’t turn on a television or computer without being bombarded by advertisements for New Moon, it got me thinking about the general lack of representation that exists for native people in mainstream entertainment, and fantasy doesn’t fare much better.
This isn’t to say that they don’t exist, however, and when I think back on all the various fantasy stories I’ve absorbed in my lifetime, there are actually some pretty fascinating characters…
When the X-men recruited new members for the first time since their humble beginning, one of the new class was an Apache mutant named Thunderbird, who was very quickly killed off. Years later, his younger brother, also a mutant, took the name Warpath, and adopted a costume similar to his brother’s. Though he initially blamed the X-men for Thunderbird’s death, he later realized they were not at fault, and joined the heroic team X-Force.
6. Elisa Maza
In the 90s, Disney came out withGargoyles, a surprisingly dark and interesting cartoon series which featured a group of stone-by-day, flesh-by-night creatures who were connected to the human world by their best friend, a policewoman named Elisa Maza. What was impressive about her character was that she was a good person and a strong, intelligent cop, who just happened to be a woman, and half-African-American, half-Hopi to boot. This is the kind of diversity we need to see more of in children’s programming.
5. Danielle Moonstar
The second X-man on the list (which is a series that scores high points in diversity), Moonstar was a young girl of Cheyenne heritage when she was first brought into the X-men’s junior team, the New Mutants. Her main power was the ability to project images of people’s worst fears into their head, and she also had an empathic rapport with animals. Later on, she honed her psychic powers to be able to generate bursts of psionic force.
4. Little Bear
One of my absolute favorite books as a child was The Indian in the Cupboard, which is perhaps the story most responsible for imbuing me with a lifelong love of fantasy. For anyone who never read it, you’re truly missing out on a phenomenal tale of a young English boy named Omri who is gifted a magical cupboard that makes his toys come alive, and the relationship he forms with the proud Iroquois, Little Bear, who comes out of the cupboard standing six inches tall. Little Bear is actually a very real man who was transported from his own time by the magic of the cupboard, and he teaches Omri many things, among them how to respect those who are different from you. (There’s a movie version, but I don’t recommend it.)
Though the fantastical Disney tale differs wildly from the actual history — talking trees aside, Pocahontas was a child when John Smith arrived, instead of a full-grown hottie with a figure Barbie would envy — Disney’s Pocahontas is a relatively decent entry in its animated musical repertoire. It tells the story from both sides’ points of view, and in Pocahontas we’re given yet another young, independent, headstrong female lead, as is the Disney staple. (It’s a shame the best song from the score, entitled “If I Never Knew You,” was cut from the final version of the film. You can, fortunately, find it on Youtube.)
An often overlooked gem, Brotherhood of the Wolf (Le Pacte des loupes) is a pretty cool film from our buddies in France, featuring a French taxidermist and his companion, an Iroquois warrior named Mani played by Mark Dacascos, who kicks a whole lot of ass throughout the film. What’s nice to see is that Mani, an outsider for not only not being a Frenchman but a Native American as well, is one of the most likable (and badass) characters in the film.
1. Jacob Black
All right, we knew this was inevitable. Love it or hate it, the Twilight series does boast not one but several Native American characters (belonging to the Quileute tribe), and the fact that Jacob Black is a romantic, heroic lead is nice to see in a genre picture such as this one. Now if only we could do something about those screaming tween girls.
So, as we can see, while there is some representation of Native American characters, the fact remains that across the media of television, film, and books, stories are still shamefully lacking. In fact, I think one would be hard-pressed to find many more examples of decent, 3-dimensional Native Americans in fiction in general, and that is, quite frankly, a travesty.
Maybe, in the end, that will be Twilight’s legacy: helping to bring Native American characters into the spotlight, and setting a trend for future writers to follow. One can only hope.
So I guess this means I’m on Team Jacob, huh?