Shailene Woodley’s Divergent opens next week, which means the Descendants and Spectacular Now actress has been making the media rounds.
Woodley certainly gave bloggers a lot to talk about on Wednesday when she dismissed Twilight to Teen Vogue, declaring that the vampire franchise centers on “a very unhealthy, toxic relationship…. She falls in love with this guy and the second he leaves her, her life is over and she’s going to kill herself! What message are we sending to young people? That is not going to help this world evolve.”
It’s hard not to suspect that Woodley’s diss is just a shrewd marketing tactic for Divergent. By disavowing Twilight, Woodley distances herself from the female-centric YA craze of the vamps-versus-wolves series to align her film more closely to a male-inclusive, action-oriented media property like The Hunger Games.
Or perhaps I’m being too cynical. Woodley seems genuinely thoughtful — she likes to hug her interviewers, explaining her physical affection as “Hey, I’m real. You’re real. Let’s connect.” And Twilight has rightly drawn criticism from some feminists for its regressive sexual politics — the series ends with Bella as a teen bride and mother, after all, with no college in sight. Perhaps Woodley was simply expressing her opinion, in which case, kudos to her for caring about what the stories she helps tell actually mean.
But whatever Woodley’s motivations were for attacking Twilight, she’s misguided and short-sighted for doing so.
First, Twilight isn’t entirely backward, values-wise. The saga finds Bella leaving behind her human past to become a vampire like her eventual husband Edward — a decision that essentially has her willingly transforming into one of the most powerful and indestructible beings in her world. That aspect of Twilight is, in fact, pretty similar to the journey Woodley’s character in Divergent undergoes, in which meek Tris decides to abandon her family to join an elite segment of society that trains harder than Spartans.
More importantly, though, the Divergent film wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the success of Twilight. Media aimed primarily at women, from romantic comedies to teenage melodramas like Twilight all the way down to Sex and the City and Girls, tend to be endlessly ridiculed by the culture at large, and thus routinely underestimated in its appeal, and thus less frequently made and/or invested in than equally commercial fare like comic-book movies. Three billion dollars later, it may be hard to remember that the first Twilight movie was considered a gamble, and thus given a relatively paltry budget of $37 million. (It ended up grossing over ten times that much.)
The $80 million-budgeted Divergent, then, is riding on the coattails of Twilight and The Hunger Games movies. It would never have been greenlit if those earlier YA franchises hadn’t reminded studio execs that girls (and boys) want to watch movies about female characters kicking ass. And as a woman in Hollywood, Woodley probably has some idea of how few starring roles, especially in action movies, there are for even talented actresses like her.
So whether Woodley wants to admit it or not, her YA-heavy filmography, which also includes the upcoming adaptation of the teen cancer romance The Fault in Our Stars, owes a great deal to Twilight. If she wants to tell stories with better messages to young audiences that will “help this world evolve,” great.
But there’s no need for her to lambast the people who have opened doors for her.