On Diverse Whiteness: How Stephenie Meyer Could Have Cast Black and Brown People With “Pale Glistening Skin”
While the quotes from Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke may not be news to you, this is the first time that many people are learning of Meyer’s explicit defense about the lack of diversity on set.
Given the list of problematic and inappropriate aspects of Meyer’s story, and the ever-present grip that white supremacy has on film and television, it isn’t a surprise that Meyer had an all white cast in mind for the 2008 film. Meyer defended the lack of diversity in the cast by stating that she wrote in the books that the vampires had “this pale glistening skin.” That could arguably be reason enough if not for one thing: there are people of all races and ethnicities with pale, glistening skin.
Audiences often lament the lack of diversity on television and in films, and desire more representation on screen in general, and are regularly disappointed by a sea of whiteness. Sometimes, even, whiteness for the sake of whiteness with no story-specific reasons why. For some people, seeing themselves represented on screen is about more than seeing conventionally attractive people who are Black, Brown, and Indigenous play lead roles in films.
Media continues, for instance, to misrepresent and underrepresent people with disabilities and facial difference. Even worse, people with disabilities and facial or appearance difference are cast most often to play villains, monsters, and people who are props in stories with the sole purpose of being fixed or tokenized.
In the case of Stephenie Meyer and Twilight, and the pale glistening skin, there was a missed opportunity for casting Black and Brown people diagnosed with albinism or vitiligo. Pale skin isn’t a physical trait exclusive to white people so claiming that the all white cast is a result of a story-specific mention of pale glistening skin isn’t a valid excuse.
Further, the entertainment industry is deeply impacted by heteronormative, white suprematist, patriarchal capitalism and in order to decolonize the realm of mainstream, visual storytelling it is the responsibility of filmmakers and casting directors to actively dismantle those intersecting systems of oppression via their craft. Actors can also make an impact by advocating for diversity and inclusion and acknowledging the ways in which they perpetuate white supremacy and colorism with their portrayals.
Whether it’s Stephenie Meyer or any person working in and with the film and television industry, representation free of unhealthy stereotypes and tired tropes should play a part in the casting and writing processes. While there are certainly countless directors, producers, and actors creating and filming stories that purposely de-center whiteness, white supremacy and other oppressive power dynamics continue to fuel mainstream media. Instead of making excuses for racist casting decisions, white creators should unlearn their toxic ways of thinking about race and actively work to diversify on-screen stories with honesty and integrity.
Of course, most of this has been said before. With respect to directors and writers who cling to the idea that white skin necessarily and automatically equates to white people, though, their time is up. Every race and ethnicity on the planet is embodied by people whose skin ranges in color. Pale, glistening skin can, and does, belong to people who aren’t white. For the sake of honest representation, diversify your casts. For the sake of people with albinism and vitiligo, remind audiences that skin color doesn’t always tell the full story about a person’s identity.