For the Love of Laurent
Words by Praise Zaloumis
As a teenager, you are blind to the implications of the media you consume. I was no stranger to this, nor was my sister, who was the reason I watched Twilight. It wasn’t until my sister outgrew the films and began telling me things like “Jasper Cullen was a slave owner” and questioning “where the black people at?” that I realised the uncomfortable insights I couldn’t have caught as a 13-year-old.
The gothic genre is incredibly captivating in its ability to renew itself by drawing from the past. This can be seen in the evolution of the vampire from the sickly, abject invader in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) to Ann Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles (1976-88) in which they are presented as sexy, brooding and tormented souls. Interview with the Vampire went on to be an incredibly popular book series which spawned an even more popular film, starring a 9-year-old Kirsten Dunst. I believe that Ann Rice was the groundwork for Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series; she created beautiful and conservative vampires (Borgia, 2011).
The vampire subgenre can always be refreshed to reflect our generational desires, for example, the first Twilight film was released in 2008 during the world’s "most damaging" recession (Amadeo, 2020). Despite this, the Cullens were presented as an attractive, wealthy and loyal family, giving them an air of stability that was lacking in the world at the time. Regardless of the criticism the films received, escapism was what escalated the first film’s $407.1 million box office to $829.7 million for Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012). Vampires usually possess wealth because they convene around power (Bell, 2020). This power has always sat leisurely in the lap of white privilege, but what happens when vampiric abilities are given to a black person.
Laurent is the magical negro turned savage. If you are unaware of these terms, I will give you an understanding. ‘The magical negro’ refers to a token black character who enjoys serving white people with their expertise (TV Tropes, undated). Sometimes the character has magical abilities like Dick Hollorann from The Shining (1980). This is shown in Twilight when Laurent visits the Cullens to sell out James his fellow clan member, allowing Jasper and Alice to hide Bella whilst the rest of the Cullens spread Bella's scent to distract James. The issue is that Laurent had no reason to help the Cullens which is usually the case with magical negro characters.
Laurent in Twilight: New Moon (2009) was turned into a predatory savage who justifies wanting to kill Bella by saying “I can’t help myself; you are so mouth-watering”. This fits the image of the savage black man perfectly; a beast-like man who is ready to devour an innocent white woman (Pilgrim, 2000). The scene echoes Birth of a Nation (Griffth, 1915), the infamously racist film has a scene where a ‘black man’ (white guy in blackface), sexually assaults a white woman and is lynched as punishment. In Twilight, Laurent tries to bite Bella and is torn to shreds by werewolves as punishment. Meyer subconsciously warns her white female audience against dating black men and interracial dating as a whole since Bella never takes to Jacob Black, an indigenous man.
Overall, this speaks to a looming issue with the vampire sub-genre and gothic as a whole. There is not enough BIPOC visibility. Unless we are subhuman monsters, the help or savages. Twilight does a fantastic job of highlighting these issues whilst being unaware of them. The villains or opponents are usually the opposite of the Cullens because there is no space on the white privilege throne that the family inhabits. Laurent, Harry Clearwater and ‘the third wife’ (a nameless ancestor of Jacob Black) die to raise the stakes of a scene but have no purpose overall because they don’t possess the power to move the plot ahead. This is in contrast to Laurent’s white clan members; James kicks off the series and Victoria ends the third film with nail biting tension. Twilight was written over a decade ago and was not exempt from criticism by the non-white, non-straight, non-binary, poor people it managed to sweep under the rug. Not to mention, the toxic fans who were racist towards Robert Pattinson’s ex, FKA Twigs. In 2014, Twigs tweeted “I am genuinely shocked and disgusted at the amount of racism that has been infecting my account the past week.” (Wang, 2017) Their engagement was called off in 2017. She very recently spoke about it again in a BBC interview with Louis Theroux stating, " I need to really try and hide this monkey-ness that I have, because otherwise, people are gonna come for me about it." in reference to the hordes of trolls calling her a monkey. Stephanie Meyer’s 2020 release, Midnight Sun, hasn’t managed to escape the racism allegations (Hein, 2020) and because of that, I had to detach myself from a childhood mistake.
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