Just when you thought Twilight had receded into the zeitgeists-of-popular-culture-past, a new short film contest called “The Storytellers— New Voices of The Twilight Saga” promises to bring the series, and its vibrant fan base, back to life. Before you grit your teeth and shake your feminist fist, bemoaning that one of the most regressive, non-feminist-friendly blockbuster sagas is back in the limelight, take pause. The good news is that the contest is aimed at encouraging women writers and directors, which is direly needed in an industry that has lost ground in terms of females behind the camera in recent decades.
Lexi Alexander wrote about this in her piece “No More Excuses: Hollywood Needs to Hire More Female Directors.” Pointing out there has been no lasting improvement in the 35 years since the report “Behind the Scenes: Equal Employment Opportunity in the Motion Picture Industry” was delivered by the California Advisory Committee to the United States Commission on Civil Rights, Alexander concludes that lip service about change is just that. Insisting that, “THERE IS NO LACK OF FEMALE DIRECTORS. But there is a huge lack of people willing to give female directors opportunities,” her piece serves as a rallying cry for the industry to do something about a problem they have been decrying for decades. While only a small step in this direction, the “Storytellers” contest is doing something about this by actively seeking to give opportunities to female directors and writers.
Screenplays submitted for the contest will be eligible for cash prizes of $500 to $3,000, and the five chosen finalists will work with a team of mentors: Jennifer Lee (director of Frozen); Women in Film president Cathy Schulman; actors Kate Winslet, Octavia Spencer and Julie Bowen; the author of the Twilight saga, Stephenie Meyer; and the lead actor from the films, Kirsten Stewart. The finalists will each be awarded $50,000 to complete their shorts. (Readers can go here for more details on the project.)
The shorts will premiere exclusively on Facebook, which seems a good fit if the goal is to raise awareness about the paltry rate at which women are being hired in comparison to men for behind-the-camera work. However, although Facebook has the power to capture public attention, as billions of users see trending topics in their feed, why stop there? Why not a wider-ranging media and educational campaign that uses the popularity of the saga to spread public awareness about the shockingly low percentage of women in behind-the-camera positions, and to encourage girls and women to pursue careers in film-making?
Perhaps this will occur after the Facebook premiere which, if successful, has the potential to spawn other such contests. It seems J.K. Rowling could spare a few pounds for something similar with Harry Potter, for example, or writers Fran Walsh and Philippa Boyens could inspire young women to submit work set in the Tolkien-verse. The Hunger Games films, based on Suzanne Collins’ series, could similarly garner female behind-the-camera hopes.
Given that only one of the Twilight films was helmed by a woman director despite the female-driven texts and fandom, we must recognize that even those stories written by and aimed at a female audience are still predominantly directed and produced by men. Meyer’s statement that “The female voice is something that has become more and more important to me as I’ve worked in the film industry,” doesn’t pack the strongest feminist punch, but at least her goal is to promote more female voices/visions. The video discussing the contest is more direct in its feminist sentiment: Kristen Stewart says, “I am where I am because of all the strong women who came before me to help pave the way;” Octavia Butler notes, “It’s our turn to help elevate the next generation of filmmakers;” and Jennifer Lee insists, “It’s time for more female voices to be heard.”
As noted in a Women and Hollywood post, “The Storytellers—New Creative Voices of The Twilight Saga is an especially welcome step in the right direction by putting women at the forefront of the series.” The same piece notes the Twilight films earned a $3.5 billion, arguing given this “it’s safe to assume that the resulting shorts will be very popular and shared across millions of news feeds.”
Though the female fandom of Twilight was often derided, it sparked creative output for many women, as noted in Tanya Erzen’s book Fanpire. While admittedly not the most feminist series, the saga led some women to feminist awakenings, as I witnessed each time I taught my women’s studies course “Twilight: The Texts and The Fandom.” Though my own feminist critique of the series, Seduced by Twilight, takes issue with the anti-feminist sentiment of the books, as well as with the cultural appropriation therein, I readily admit that a key way to turn young women onto feminism—and toward careers in which they can create their own narratives—is to speak to them where they are. There are lots of women who undoubtedly will be inspired to submit Twilight-focused screenplays. Who knows, one of them might just be the next Dee Rees, Jamie Babbitt, Catherine Hardwicke, Kathryn Bigelow, Ava DuVernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood or Mira Nair.
Natalie Wilson teaches women’s studies and literature at California State University, San Marcos. She is the author of Seduced by Twilight and blogs for Ms., Girl with Pen and Bitch Flicks.