This weekend, the fifth and final installment of the Twilight franchise opened, and to no one’s surprise, killed at the box office. Conversations about the film will undoubtedly focus on the business it did (massive), whether or not it was any good (it wasn’t, really, but I had a great time), and what the fans were like opening night (enthusiastic, as always), but there’s a much smaller, more personal story to be told by each individual fan, and that’s what three fully grown women talked about on their way to see Breaking Dawn, Part 2 this weekend in a Midwestern suburb.
I’ve just moved from Brooklyn to the Midwest and before I’d even left, my friends agreed to fly out to see Breaking Dawn with me. Walking to the theater this Friday night (because my guests couldn’t miss work in time to get here for the midnight screenings the night before), we all three realized that we could trace major developments in our lives against what we were doing each time we saw a Twilight film. This phenomenon is not unique to Twilight itself, but rather a testament to the way fandom in general can shape and inform our own stories. The memories associated with our fandom become a secondary text in their own right, one that elevates the material from its very real limitations and creates space for friendships to develop outside the world of the franchise.
No small amount of flack has been thrown my way for being an adult, a feminist, and an aspiring academic with a real emotional investment in Twilight. And while it’s encouraging to see Bella Swan finally strong and active, the fact remains that marriage and motherhood were the keys to unleashing her inner power, and that makes it difficult to recoup this series towards any feminist project.
What I came to appreciate, though, while writing my Master’s thesis on Twilight (and the much more overtly feminist Hunger Games) was that these films, despite whatever issues they present in their content, must be understood within their contexts. The success of Twilight underscores the importance of the young female audience in the publishing and film industries, and invites young women to participate in active fan cultures in a way that more gender neutral—or boy-centric—franchises haven’t.
It’s discouraging that Twilight started out with a female director (I miss you, Catherine Hardwicke—your installment was easily the best), only to go on to employ all males, but women can still rally around screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg. The films (and books) are perhaps not encouraging for the examples they set, but for the conversations they invite, and anytime the conversation is focused on what girls want and deserve from their media environments, it’s a win.
Emilie Spiegel is a graduate student working on a doctorate in media and cultural studies.