About BMC 277: Media and Diversity

This course asks students to critically examine the role of the media in facilitating and challenging the social constructions of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation in U.S. culture.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Evolution of Sexuality in Teen Novels and Movies: Harry Potter and Twilight

By Tamara French

Today’s generation is filled with much angst and sexuality (http://cfw.tufts.edu/), which is mirrored in many novels and movies seen in the media. Two of the most popular novels turned movie franchises among teens are the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series (http://www.goodreads.com/). Both stories speak of supernatural worlds; Harry Potter set in the wizarding world and Twilight set in a world where vampires and werewolves roam.

The Harry Potter world began in the mind of J.K. Rowling. The first novel being Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone, released in June 1997 in the U.K (http://www.jkrowling.com/), is one of seven books in the Harry Potter series. Many of the novels have occupied the adult bestselling list once they have been published. The first movie in the franchise was released in 2001 and, throughout the whole series, has been a success with each film. The story of Harry Potter it begins in 1991 when an eleven year old British boy, who has been living with his uncle and aunt after his parent’s death, finds out that he is a wizard and is accepted into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The series spans six years of his life, in which he matures in skill and wit and finds out that he is not just an ordinary wizard but that he has to ultimately fight and destroy one of the most powerful evil wizards of the time, Lord Voldemort.

Stephanie Myers, author of Twilight, says she “woke up from a dream featuring seemingly real characters that she could not get out of her head” (http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/). These characters eventually became the basis for what many know today as the Twilight series. The first novel Twilight, released in October 2005 (http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/), is one for four books in the Twilight series. The Twilight movie, directed by Catherine Hardwicke, was released on November 21, 2008. The story of Twilight is one that would seem very normal, but when uncovered has a side that is not one of normalcy at all. The novel takes place in modern day and follows the story of Bella Swan, a less than average seventeen year old girl, who has decided to move to Forks, Washington to live with her father. She meets the Cullen family, and falls in love with Edward Cullen, who happens to be vampires. Bella is not deterred by this rather disturbing information and soon is in life threatening danger, this remains throughout the series.

Harry Potter and Twilight have very different perspectives on the supernatural world and deal with different types of those worlds. The fact that these two stories are set in different time periods has a lot to do with the sexual conduct and stereotypes that are present in both series’.

Sexuality in Twilight and Harry Potter
Twilight has been very sexualized and can lead many young women into thinking that what they see on the screen is what they ultimately need to be, and what they need to strive for. Because it is set in the 21st century there is a mirror effect, one does what is seen, that happens between the audience and film. Young women see Bella Swan crying, swooning, and being a bit pathetic when it comes to being with Edward Cullen. This shows a weak female, not only that but a weak and passionate female because she cannot wait to just have sex with him. In the movie this fact of a very sexualized, lustful female is played up. For instance, in the book the first time that she and he kiss is outside before a baseball game and it is a pleasant kiss, not too much and not too little, but a normal kiss. In the movie the first kiss is in her bedroom, at nighttime, and she barely has any clothing on, the kiss is not a light one but a very sexualized, drawn out one. The fact that the movie showed a very eager girl trying to do more than just kiss a man shows the way that the scene played up the sexual aspect of the movie. Throughout the novel even Bella is eager to do more than just hold hands or kiss, she wants more and one thing that stands out about this is that the male does not. Stereotypically the male figure is the one who is ready to go, but Edward is ‘old-fashioned’ and wants to wait until marriage.

Twilight Trailer

In Harry Potter there are not many relationships throughout, it is not the main focus of the novel or the movies because that is not the only things that these characters think about. When they do get to a certain age it is shown that there are feelings there, but the story does not compound that simple thing. In ‘The Order of the Phoenix’ it shows for the first time a character from Harry Potter kiss somebody. They do not play up the sexuality in the films and because the novel is set in a different time period this may be why it is not as prevalent. The Harry Potter books are about adventure, not teen angst, while Twilight is exactly about teen angst. The gap between these two types of novels is huge because of the time differences, and probably also because of the fact that one is about American teenagers while the other is about British teenagers. Either way, when analyzing these novels it is evident that as time goes on the evolution of books and movies is becoming more and more sexualized and also flat.

Order of the Phoenix Trailer

The characters in both stories have their stereotypes, but how well-rounded these characters are is very important and what stereotypes they discuss also is. In Twilight there are some main stereotypes that stick out; the jock, the preppy girl, the awkward one, the beautiful girl, and the nerd. In Harry Potter there are also stereotypes; the class clown, the smart girl, the weird girl, the hero, and the sidekick. Since Twilight has become more sexualized the characters have become less well-rounded. With these stereotypes they only can be those things, all the characters are who they appear to be on the outside, it’s not like the ‘Breakfast Club’ where at the end of the movie the audience sees that they are more than what they appear to be, these characters are not. In Harry Potter even though there are these stereotypes, most of them have more than one dimension to them, the smart girl is also witty and cool, the class clown is an entrepreneur and successful, the sidekick is much more than that and proves himself to be so. Neither one of these movies represent real life obstacles, such as evil wizards and vampires, but real human beings and feelings are being represented, so to make them one-dimensional is not at all good.

In the story of Twilight, a story that is wrapped around relationships, lust, and love, there is no homosexuality. Despite the obvious uncertainty of Edward’s sexual appeal, there are no gay couples in Forks, WA. There are no explicitly gay vampires. Bella herself does not experience same-sex attraction. For a story to have so much lust and sexual condonation, one would think that it would condon the use of same-sex relationships, even just to walk around. A history of homosexuality flocks behind vampires also, so why not place this in the movie? Interview with a Vampire is a movie with homosexuality and eroticism, two things that are usually associated with vampires and people even think that in a sense Edward is homosexual, but the mention of it in the film is never established. In the story of Harry Potter, even though it is not mentioned in the text or in the movie, it turns out that J.K. Rowling wrote Dumbledore as a gay character. She says, “Dumbledore fell in love with Grindelwald [a bad wizard he defeated long ago], and that added to his horror when Grindelwald showed himself to be what he was.”(http://www.guardian.co.uk/)Many did not know this, even the writers of the script did not know, “in a script read-through for the sixth film, and they had Dumbledore saying a line to Harry early in the script saying, ‘I knew a girl once, whose hair...’ I had to write a little note in the margin and slide it along to the scriptwriter, ‘Dumbledore's gay!’” So after all Harry Potter does actually have a homosexual character and now that I think about it fits Dumbledore.

Racial Divides
Both films and movies show a range of different ethnicities and races and even interracial dating happens. Harry’s first crush is an Asian girl, and there are many significant characters of all races in the novels; Dean, Kingsley, and the Patel twins are just a few of them. Even in Twilight there are multiple races. The fact that it is not the main focus in either one of the series’, shows that race does not really matter in reality, and that just because one is a different color from somebody else’s that does not mean there will be strife always.

It is evident that movies and books show sexuality, stereotypes and race in many lights. The fact that some of these things are overly stated is well known. The evolution of sexuality in books and movies has most definitely become over rated and extremely unwrapped. The stereotypes have kept to that, even though they were not just that single one-dimensional person once before. The up side is that race relations in these books and movies were accepted then and are accepted now, not being the matter that causes strife but showing that everybody can actually get along. Both of these series’ include tantalizing story lines and captivate audiences across America so much that young reader’s flock to the bookstores and theatre when these titles appear. But The fact of the matter that throughout time the movies and books have become more and more sexually pertinent, and stereotyped, is very evident, especially in the reflection shown through today’s audience.

Works Cited
Smith, David. www.guardian.co.uk. The Observer, 21 Oct, 2007. Web. 1 Dec. 2010.


Seth. www.stepheniemeyer.com. The Official Website of Stephenie Meyers, n.d. Web. 1 Dec.



Child & Family Web Guide. Tufts University, Medford, MA 02155 © 2001-2010, Eliot Pearson
Department of Child Development. Tufts University.


  1. The representations of vampires have changed in culture over the years, from the horror films ‘Dracula’: who was an outsider and a source of humans problems in their society, to the new representation of Edward Cullen: who is an outsider, but in a modern setting of a school. This is a new and also a positive representation of vampires, the audience does not fear Edward.
    It is true that movies and television have become more sexually pertinent, but it appears that Twilight also relies much on innuendo than actual sex between the characters of Bella and Edward, to pull the audience in to keep watching and guessing how their relationship is going to progress. I feel that if the representation of Bella was more positive and stronger then she would be a better role model for young/teen girls who appear to be the primary audience.

  2. Notice that Harry Potter and Twilight have on purpose quite different atmospheres. If they both have been written by women, J. K. Rowling was unemployed and just wanted to write some stories for her kids (the atmosphere changed with her book's success: the first one is very easy to read, bent on kids, and the last are more lyrical, more frightening), despite Stephenie Meyer always wanted to build what Twilight finally is. This explains maybe the difference in sexual issues in the two novels. Beyond this point, I would like to witness as an 'old fashion guy' myself as you say. I think that the way sexuality is presented in media, and especially in media bent on teen audience, almost always have the message that having sex as soon as possible -and, sometimes, with as many people as possible- is a criteria of personal success. It emphasizes how hedonism is currently the dominant conception of life. People who don't live in this way, or who don't have this view of sexuality, are absent from movies or seen as 'old-fashioned', or people who don't know how to enjoy a life where you are supposed to be always "ready to go". This is another kind of discrimination.