Twilight: Why Jacob’s Tattoo Caused A Major Controversy

Twilight may not be remembered as the most controversial blockbuster franchise, but the tattoo worn by Taylor Lautner’s Jacob caused a scandal when the filmmakers failed to properly credit its inspiration. Beginning in 2008 with Thirteen helmer Catherine Hardwicke’s moody, brooding, somewhat self-serious Twilight, the Twilight saga was a tonally inconsistent but tremendously financially successful series of movie adaptations based on Stephenie Meyers’ best-selling YA supernatural romance novel series of the same name.

Telling the love story of Bella Swan, an ordinary small-town girl, and Edward Cullen, a 104-year-old vampire in a teenager’s body, the Twilight series was a box office hit despite being derided by critics and occasionally even mocked by its actors for its cornier story elements and goofy moments. However, while most reviewers dismissed the series for being over-the-top and silly, there were more serious controversies leveled at the Twilight saga, too, as proven by the scandal caused by Jacob Black’s tattoo.

More broadly, much of Twilight’s depiction of native Quileute myths was considered exploitative and inaccurate by actual indigenous natives and the depiction of Jacob’s tattoo proved similarly controversial. The design was drawn up by artist Lesza Snowdon based on actual tribal legends of the Quileute people, yet the design itself was borrowed from another tribe’s traditional line form style. After Snowdon claimed credit (and was paid by the franchise’s creators) for the design, Quileute people have noted that the tattoo is taken from their mythology and therefore should be considered the tribe’s intellectual property. Originally, Snowdon heard of the Quileute’s imagery of two wolves twinned together to represent strength and solidarity from Twilight production designer David Brisbin, who visited the tribe’s hometown for inspiration before production began on the movies.

Jacobs’ tattoo is a vital element of the character, but not one that the creators came up with themselves. Instead, the imagery was taken from actual Quileute legend and used extensively on merchandising without any royalties being given to the Quileute people, an example of cultural appropriation that struck many as unfair. The design proved yet more controversial when Quileute tribespeople noted the inaccuracy of the tattoo’s art style being taken from the Haida tribe, despite supposedly being based on a Quileute legend. As a result, the tattoo confused the two distinct traditions and rendered them indistinguishable from each other for casual Twilight viewers.

It’s an unfortunate decision when the tattoo’s popularity meant it was soon ubiquitous on Twilight merchandise. Oddly, Jacob’s tattoo continued to be a img of trouble for other reasons in later movies. Taylor Lautner’s Jacob is plagued by continuity errors in regard to his tattoo in one of the more infamous mistakes that appear throughout the franchise. Initially, his tattoo appears on the top of his shoulder in New Moon, but by the next movie, Eclipse, the placement was noticeably farther down his arm, proving that the Twilight tattoo was a problematic part of the series throughout its incarnations.

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