Why Twilight Will Be a Great Achievement for Women

Out of the top 100 highest grossing live action films of all-time (U.S. only), not one is directed by a woman. That’s about to change.

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I did some clicking around on IMDB this morning, and out of the top 100 highest grossing live action films of all-time (U.S. only), not one is directed by a woman.

You’ll notice I said “live action.” That’s because women did co-direct a couple films that break the top 100 when you include animation. Vicky Jenson co-directed Shrek (#38), and Judy Morris co-directed Happy Feet (#92).

And you’ll notice I said “U.S. only.” That’s because on the list of highest grossing films worldwide, a woman is currently at #48 and rising. The English director Phyllida Lloyd helmed Mamma Mia! this summer. Apparently, it did much better internationally than it did here – on U.S. box office chart, it’s only at #183.

And believe it or not, the situation for ladies behind the camera might be getting worse. Dr. Martha Lauzen of San Diego State University compiles a yearly study on women in Hollywood. Her report on the top 250 domestic grossing films of 2007 found that…

Women accounted for 6% of directors in 2007, a decline of one percentage point since 2006. This figure is almost half the percentage of women directors working in 2000 when women accounted for 11% of all directors.


Twilight is directed by Catherine Hardwicke. In order to break into the top 100 domestic, it needs to gross over 187 million. I’m guessing it should do that by December 1.

So feminists — if you were disappointed that Hillary Clinton and/or Sarah Palin didn’t get to the White House, and least you can be proud that the celluloid ceiling is about to get busted wide open.

[I’d tell you to do your part by going to see the movie, but you were going to do that anyway. Or you already have. So I won’t bother. –Ed.]

41 Comments on “Why Twilight Will Be a Great Achievement for Women”

  1. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Haven’t seen the film, but based on the terrible reviews it’s been getting, this would be like Sarah Palin becoming the first female president. Yeah, you broke the glass ceiling, but ew…

    By the way, I contend that the reason (besides the obvious fact that they only constitute 6% of the workforce) that there are no female directors at the top of this list is that female directors never get the big money to make the special effects spectacles that make loads of cash. You’d think the studios would give Catherine Hardwicke loads of money to make Twilight, but they gave her almost nothing ($40 mil) in Hollywood terms. Same goes for Mamma Mia ($50 mil budget — most of which I assume went to the big name actors since the production values of that film were terrible).

    Until studios start giving female directors $200 million dollars to make Girl Titanic, we’re not going to see too many female directors on that list.


  2. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Ah, touche, Wrather. Touche.

    How about girl Batman, then?


  3. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    They made that one too. It’s called “Batman and Robin,” starring Alicia Silverstone as Girl Batman.


  4. fenzel #

    I dunno if I buy that logic, Shana. I don’t think the producers plan a project, then budget it based on what director they get. I suspect they come up with the budget and then start thinking about the director.

    And I think the real reason there aren’t a lot of women on that list is that the studios aren’t going to give a ton of money to a director who isn’t very well established, and that women weren’t nearly as welcome on the tracks to success thirty years ago as they are now.

    This is reinforced by the fact that this isn’t just a random distribution of men. There are a _lot_ of repeats on that list, both of directors and of projects. There are a ton of Spielberg and George Lucas movies. There are multiple Chris Columbus movies. All the Lord of the Rings movies are there, all the X-men movies are there, all the Harry Potter movies are there.

    So you’re talking about a very small club of dudes who have directed these movies, and even across those dudes, there isn’t a ton of variation on what kind of movies there are. And getting lucky or self-producing one of them is almost a prerequisite for being allowed to make another.

    Basically, there weren’t a ton of women with the professional connections and expertise to start making blockbusters in the 70s and 80s. The 60s wasn’t all that long ago, and things were very different in the 60s with regard to gender.

    I think what you’re seeing here is a lagging effect on the increased diversity of the movie biz, and that _Twilight_ is indeed going to be a watershed moment, because from here things should start looking a lot more balanced, at least in the long run. You probably won’t hit proportional representation in the population for much longer, but the sample size is way too small for that to be a realistic proposition anyway. This list will never proportionally represent the United States unless you cherry pick categories and force it to work. The first one that breaks into the list is more important than the one that brings it to 50%.

    And also, you’ve got to be careful of the Bush risk here — as in, don’t beg to run something for which you have nothing but contempt. It didn’t work for the Bush administration and “big government,” and it won’t work for people who hate commercial genre movies and sequels, and this list, which is largely composed of commercial genre movies and sequels.


  5. fenzel #

    Yeah, “girl batman” also had a female villain (Uma Thurman) and a gay director (Joel Schumacher).

    Two of the major studio released batman movies were directed by a gay guy. There are actually quite a few gay directors on that list.

    So the charges of deliberate, systematic top-down heteronormativity and patriarchy don’t really work as well as the charge of lagging professional development and training opportunities that arose from the glacial pace of other social changes.

    As in, because a gay guy could get the training, professional development and connections to become a director while still closeted, he can more quickly take advantage of a more egalitarian production system than a woman, who, while probably not barred by active prejudice these days, didn’t get the chances the guy did to move up through the ranks when she was younger – even if, back in the day, they both would have been barred from that top spot.


  6. Siwi #

    I was thrilled to see this headline, in part because I’m having a serious case of backlash backlash over Twilight. I went out and bought the damn book last Monday because I want to have my own opinion on it and I’m sick of seeing hate for it (I clearly hang out in some hostile places online).

    I had a similar response at Comic-con this year when it seemed like the most common buzz thing to talk about was how much Twilight fans suck, with high-pitched shrieking being prominently featured. I didn’t witness it much, myself, but I found the complaining a bit ridiculous; if you can’t lose your shit over a beloved book series at Comic-con, where the hell can you? It makes “high-pitched shrieking” seem less like a factual description (although it probably is one) and more like code for “stupid girls and their stupid girl-ness that doesn’t belong at Comic-con.” Which gets my hackles right up. I don’t really love the concept of a big ‘No Girls Allowed’ sign at Comic-con.

    Or, in other words, why is Justin Long’s character in GalaxyQuest adorable while Twilight fans making pilgrimages to Washington are psychotic/irritating?

    (I will, of course, feel a little silly if I hate the book, but I’ll still defend girls’ right to be fanboys, dammit.)


  7. mlawski OTI Staff #

    Fenzel: Ah, you’re right. I didn’t mean to imply any causality (We got a female director => The movie’s going to be bad => Let’s not give it too much money). I just meant that, for whatever reason, female directors tend to be paired up with lower budgeted features. I think you’re probably right about why.

    Siwi: I dunno. I’m a girl, and I like comics, and I’ve been to comic conventions, but fourteen-year-old girls shrieking and swooning over anything drive me nuts. And they seem to travel in packs. Anyway, there’s a difference between, “Yay! I really like X comic or Y TV show! I want to get an autograph/buy a wallscroll/cosplay as my favorite character!” versus “OMG SQUEE SQUEE IT’S EDWARD! BITE MY NECK EDWARD!!!” I guess it’s the difference between the hardcore Beatle fans and the Beatlemaniacs.


  8. Siwi #

    Beatlemania is probably an apt thing to bring into this. And, again, I’ve never personally had to deal with the squee problems. I just got a wake up call this summer when I did a play and every other female member of the cast under 25 had already read and loved the book. I realize that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re joining the nerd culture I so proudly hail from, but, a little bit, it does. And… it’s a book! It’s millions of people in love with a book! That’s just awesome.

    None of that really refutes your point, I just thought I’d fill out my impressions a little more. Obviously there is a universal rule suggesting you keep your shit together, even when meeting your real and/or fictional heroes. But I’m not gonna act like if I ever meet Colin Firth I won’t have a loop running in my head to the tune of “OH MY GOD YOU’RE MR. DARCY.”


  9. mlawski OTI Staff #

    But I’m not gonna act like if I ever meet Colin Firth I won’t have a loop running in my head to the tune of “OH MY GOD YOU’RE MR. DARCY.”

    Heh, awesome.


  10. Gab #

    I see how _Twilight_ will be good for women in the film industry, but if it keeps with the themes and values I saw in the series, it WILL be like Palin getting elected. I read the books and was absolutely disgusted with them. Grammatical and storyline problems aside, the themes were awful. I found the central character to be a weak woman and cannot swallow any arguments I have come across for the opposite because they all, ultimately, base themselves on her being the main character; but being the central figure in a story doesn’t make a character a good one automatically. If the Bella in the movie is enough like the Bella in the books, she’ll be the pivotal example of what a woman should NOT be in so many aspects of her life and interpersonal relationships that it would cause a huge leap BACKWARD for feminism all over the place. The little fangirls that already want to be like her will want it even more, and then, well… I don’t even really want to contemplate how pathetic the young women influenced by these books and this movie will be. To be fair, though, the movie hasn’t come out yet, and so who knows, maybe Bella gets tweaked enough to actually be a decent human being with a mind of her own that treats others with at least a fair amount of respect. I hope she does.

    There are tons of blogs all over the internet about how bad _Twilight_ and its subsequent novels are, so I won’t go into that point-by-point; but I just can’t help but feel as though even if the film makes a lot of $$$, unless some major changes are made to the character of Bella, it may still do more harm than good to America’s tween- and teen-aged girls. It may help the women in the film industry *now*, but the girls/young women of the future? Not so much.


  11. Gab #

    *** And by “hasn’t come out yet,” I mean I haven’t seen it yet and sutff… I forgot it premiered today.


  12. your average girl #

    there are definitely aspects of Twilight that are not feminist friendly, but you have to blame our culture because it has brainwashed girls to look for their “prince” via Disney movies, encouraged them to be “rescued” by their knight in shining armor, and in general taught girls to be weak so that men can protect them.

    however, i was really glad to see that you actually found something to be HAPPY about regarding Twilight and feminism. True, Twilight may not be the best feminist material out there, but maybe we should all stop complaining and realize that there is a silver lining to this cloud.



  13. Archivist #

    Sorry, but to suggest Hollywood’s gender choice for directors is dictated by anything other than the bottom line is patently absurd. Young men wanting to direct films outnumber young women by an incredible margin — all we can do is encourage women to get into the business.

    And why must any work by a female director be criticized on the basis that it doesn’t espouse “feminist” ideals? It’s a VAMPIRE FILM, for goodness sake — and a young woman is “rescused” by both male and female vampires. Moreover, there are both bad male and female vampires.

    It is difficult enough getting more women to direct without imposing these inane and ideological litmus tests — looking for “oppression” that isn’t there.


  14. fenzel #

    Archivist —

    I agree with most of what you say, except for the insistence that, because it is a Vampire film, it isn’t a relevant subject for discussing feminism – or really anything else.

    To an extent, the “low culture” label is a blessing, because it gives people kind of a free pass to say the things they really think rather than obscuring it with a lot of high-minded rhetoric or playing to the sensibilities of the intelligensia. Shakespearean fool and all that.

    But to another extent, it carries this curse of illegitimacy that is, I think, largely undeserved. Most low culture has tons of subtext and complexity, and most pop culture is more culturally influential than high culture, so that sort of labelling doesn’t go very far in making a case not to talk about these things.

    I’m glad you mention it, because it gives me an opportunity to talk about what I think overthinkingit is really about — it’s about crashing through these categories and applying our noggins to stuff regardless of its pedigree.

    And while there may be reasons why criticizing _Twilight_ for being insufficiently feminist is silly (and I haven’t seen it, so I don’t know), “it’s a vampire film” isn’t one of them.


  15. Alyssa #

    Feminists don’t like Sarah Palin. Duh.


  16. Ellie #

    Gab- great comment. I agree with you on all points.

    I will also add that I don’t think this is a great achievement for women at all, due to the gender bias presented in the books (I have read them, I probably won’t see the movie). All this is is a woman directing a movie that does not portray strong female characters, further adding onto the gender stereotypes present in our society. Equating this situation to Sarah Palin becoming President is a good, if a little exaggerated, analogy.


  17. Roxie #

    I think this conversation could use a clarification of “strong” in the context of “Twilight”. Are we talking physically? mentally? emotionally?


  18. Lelah #

    I recently learned in a personality psychology class that younger people of both genders will latch onto a figure or group when they either have very underdeveloped personalities or have really low self-esteem. When people *want* to identify with something fantastical, they simply go nuts (like Twilight fans). Look at life right now. There’s so much economic trouble, people want to identify with something so completely different than the real world because it’s hard to cope with what’s going on now. When Star Wars came out in 1977, it was almost the same thing– same bleak real world, same fantastic alterworld where the good gets the bad. It’s like a safe way to conquer your problems in a controlled environment.


  19. Ruth #

    As an English student who is studying screen writing and documentary film making, I understand that women have a really rough road to travel in terms of working behind the camera in film, but I don’t think it’s fair to call “Twilight” a step in the right direction for feminism just because it was directed by a woman. I’ve read three and a half of the four books in the series (I literally could not finish the fourth), and my high-school aged sister tried to read the first, and both of us found them profoundly disturbing as young feminists. Bella is a terrible example for young girls, and the main relationship in the books reeks of abuse and manipulation. Worse yet, Bella seems to crave this kind of behavior from Edward, and despite the things he does to her (spy on her sleeping without her knowledge, separate her from her family and friends, cut the brake lines on her car so she can’t visit other people, etc.) she continues to return to him again and again.

    I *love* vampire stories. I grew up on “Buffy: The vampire Slayer”, and really, Buffy helped me as a young girl to understand my power as a woman. In fantasy and sci-fi, a genre saturated with majority male main characters and authors, TV series like “Buffy” and books like Robin McKinley’s “Sunshine” (an excellent, feminist-friendly alternative to “Twilight”) helped me to feel powerful not despite the fact that I was a girl, but because I was a girl.

    Let’s not mistake woman-created with woman-friendly. I think that the previous mentions of Sarah Palin are apt. There are lots of feminist books out there for girls to read and enjoy without relying on popular fluff like “Twilight”.


  20. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Okay, this is probably a bad idea, but I’m gonna go ahead and say it.

    I’m an Obama supporter, and I dislike Sarah Palin in a dizzying number of ways. HOWEVER, I also don’t like the idea that Sarah Palin is anti-woman, and anyone who likes her is also anti-woman. Women are allowed to be Republicans, and they’re allowed to be pro-life.

    – Matt


  21. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Oh, and I’ve got a completely unrelated observation: two or three different commenters so far have claimed to strongly dislike the books, and yet read ALL of them. All 18,000 pages (approximately). Interesting.


  22. Catherine #


    In order to not like a book, you have to at least try to read it. If you want to analyse the book – whether you like it or not – you have to actually read it. Same goes for debating.


  23. stokes OTI Staff #

    Ruth –

    But couldn’t you reverse it and say “the fact that the number one movie last weekend was directed by a woman, written by a woman (screenplay as well as novel), and had a female main character is a step in the right direction for feminism, no matter WHAT the movie actually was?” Twilight has its flaws, sure… but in the long run, isn’t this quite clearly a step in the right direction? Consider that in 2007, Warner Brothers issued a statement that they would no longer make movies with female main characters. (This actually happened. Anyone who’s saying that Hollywood is only concerned with the bottom line… you’re not wrong, exactly, but institutionalized sexism is still painfully real.) A $70 million opening weekend is going to open some doors, or at least shake some rust off the locks. I don’t want to whitewash Twilight’s ideological issues, but we shouldn’t ignore the good things either.


  24. Claire #

    Thank you, Matt. I’m a female Republican and you’re *the first* person I’ve heard state it that simple way. Thank you.


  25. fenzel #


    I dunno, people seem to dislike a lot of things with which they have no experience and in which they have no knowledge.

    Like the financial system! ZING!


  26. Gab #

    I think the Palin-is-anti-woman arguments come from her denying other women the right to choose what to do with their bodies. Just because a person may not believe in something for their own lifestyle doesn’t mean they should make their belief (or lack thereof) the law for everyone else. I know plenty of feminists that live this way: they wouldn’t get abortions themselves because of their Christian backgrounds, but they’d never support a law banning abortions. Sarah Palin went so far as to make women in Alaska pay for their own rape kits because the kits have chemicals in them with the potential to terminate a fetus created as a result of the rape: a complete imposition of restraint on a woman’s right to control her own body.

    Roxie: See the article already linked back to in the comments.

    Ruth: Amen. Ever read the _Last Vampire_ series by Christopher Pike? It has been… ten years… since I read them, but I remember thinking the main character, a female vampire, was made of awesome.

    Catherine: Yes.

    Stokes: I think the weak portrayal of women in the books and most likely the movie is actually precisely what makes it NOT “clearly” a step in the right direction. With that totally awesome $70 opening, we also get the negative depictions of women. It’s bittersweet. As I said before, making the central character a woman doesn’t necessarily make her strong; thus it also doesn’t mean her being the central character is a good thing for feminism.


  27. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Catherine –
    I can understand reading the first book so you can understand what it’s all about. But if you really hate it, why read the other three? So here’s a question for the people who read the Twilight books and disliked them from a feminist perspective: did you like ANYTHING about them?
    – Matt


  28. Ruth #

    @ stokes: I see your point. And I’ll concede that in terms of women in Hollywood, it may well be a step forward. But in terms of feminism at large, especially in terms of teaching young girls what it is to be a feminist and what they can be as women, I believe that it’s a step backwards. My biggest problem with “Twilight” is that it is aimed at vulnerable young girls who don’t have a really solid understanding of what love is supposed to be, and may get the wrong idea from these novels and (I assume) this film.

    @Matthew: You’re probably right, I shouldn’t have made that unnecessary jab at Sarah Palin. I believe she was the worst candidate for women for the reasons stated by Gab, but mentioning her wasn’t necessary in my post and I really ought to lay off. I mean, she already lost. Also, in terms of reading the books, I read them because I complain about them all the time. I’ll admit I liked the first one. I even tolerated the second one. But I read the third and half of the fourth so that when people said “Have you even *read* the books?” when I complained, I could say “Yes, I have, and I’ve made a fully informed decision about my opinion.” Also so I could make an informed disagreement when they tried “But the books get better later on.” No. No, they don’t at all.

    @Gab: I have not read the Christopher Pike books, but I’ll have to look into them! Thanks for the recommendation!


  29. Ruth #

    Just to clarify about my reading 3.5 of the books:

    I thought they were quick reads, relatively well-paced (although second readings don’t live up to the first in terms of that), had simple, easy-to-follow story lines, had vampires (which is always a plus for me), and promised interesting plot twists (that weren’t always followed up on). I read “Twilight” in about two days, and that’s during the semester. The second one took me a bit longer, the third one longer than that, and like I said I couldn’t bring myself to finish the fourth. So I don’t think they’re without redeeming qualities and I’m not saying I don’t understand why they’re popular. I just don’t think that the pros outweigh the cons.

    I’m also not saying that I don’t think people should read them, or even that girls shouldn’t read them. But I think that they should be recommended for the upper age limit of a YA audience, because 12-year-old girls (who seem to be the target audience) are too young to fully understand and grapple with the ideas of gender equality, sexual maturation, and manipulative relationships that these books present. My 14 year old sister got it, but she’s unusually mature. I’d just say for parents, especially mothers, to read the books first and see if their daughters are ready to deal with those issues.


  30. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    I should have actually asked this question four days ago, but: can somebody explain exactly HOW the books/movie are anti-feminist? Not saying they aren’t – I just haven’t read/watched them. I gather they’re about a girl whose sole ambition in life is to be the wife of this one super-hot vampire, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? Does she give up all her friends/family/dreams to be with him?


  31. Gab #

    Matt: Yes. Basically, yes.

    But anti-feminism isn’t the only problem I have with Bella. She is also very disrespectful to pretty much every authority figure in her life, from her mom to her dad to her dad’s friend(s). Further, she emotionally uses another male character later in the series, and completely knowingly: she admits she’s “feels guilty” about it but keeps doing it. I don’t want to spoil things too much, but I believe you’re aware that Edward is kind of creepy/abusive. Well, theirs isn’t the only relationship like this in the series, and sexual assault is even encouraged at one point: while the female involved has a decently acceptable reaction, her own father basically tells the guy to try harder next time, making her feel guilty for her anger at the man that took advantage of her and encouraging the guilt-complex many victims (female OR male, by the way) of sexual assault feel. And Bella has no real respect for anyone around her, including her friends- and no, not even Edward, for I think she so idolizes him that respect is replaced with reverence.

    From the feminist perspective, Ruth put it nicely, but to reiterate why the books are a problem: they have a target audience that is highly impressionable but (for the most part) not mature enough to understand the situations and themes brought up in the series; so they may get the wrong idea and think it’s ok to be stalked or forced to comply sexually.

    From a simple moral perspective, it’s trash (see above).

    There *are* some good things, but not enough to make up for the bad. I’ll admit I read a few bits that I thought were genuinely funny or sappy (but not to the point where I tasted syrup), and some of the imagery was well-done; but still, even thinking only of how Bella treated others in the books gives me reason enough not to like them, and if you add to this the penchant for douchebaggery and selfishness some of the other characters had, the answer is a mess of assholes and n00bcakes able to outweigh the non-jerks by enough to make the scale fall over. And again, this doesn’t take problems with plot and character development (which is a separate issue from the assholific personalities- they’re all so flat), nor the terrible assault on the English language, into consideration. I can enjoy a fluff piece, but I don’t think this series was good enough for it: it was badly conceived and poorly written. But yeah, I read them so I could justly say I didn’t like them and why. While I’m good enough at looking dumb on my own, I’m at least smart enough to avoid getting into a debate without knowing what I’m up against and without having solid evidence to back what I have to say up. So I read them. Also, I did hope they’d improve (but as Ruth said, no dice), so I kept going. That, and I do find vampires/werewolves/etc. appealing; so they gave me a bit of guilty pleasure in that I was reading *something* about vampies (which may have been why I held out).

    I’ll quote Weird Al on this one. His subject matter is a certain daytime television show, but his similes are fitting for how I and a lot of people feel about the _Twilight_ saga*:

    “It’s totally useless, like a bad check
    “It’s like a train wreck
    “Don’t wanna stare but you can’t look away.”

    *And calling it “saga” rather irks me, for the word “saga” has always had connotations of merit in my mind. But that’s what it seems to be called in reviews and stuff… Gag me.


  32. Caroline #

    “I gather they’re about a girl whose sole ambition in life is to be the wife of this one super-hot vampire, barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen? Does she give up all her friends/family/dreams to be with him?”

    Gab’s answer is great, (and I think Ruth is right on about her assessments as well) but I’d like to add my two cents…

    Bella has no “goals” until she falls in love with her dreamboat Edward. Then, her goal in life is to become undead, so they can be together for all eternity. He does try to encourage Bella to go to college (and have a life other than him) although he insists that they get married if they are going to be together. Other than him being the ultimate hottie, there aren’t a whole lot of details in the series as to why Bella loves him, and that is a bad thing.
    Skip forward to how she gets knocked up with a half-human-half-vampire demon baby. Until she gives birth (the baby slowly kills Bella during the pregnancy, and actually does kill her during the birth, which results in Bella finally becoming a vampire to save her “life”) she was unsure about what to expect. As soon as Bella has the baby, her thoughts become a torrent of how the baby is the bestest, most important thing ever blah blah blah.

    I read the first book because so many people I know loved it. I thought it was an entertaining love story with a new twist on vampires, literary candy instead of a nutritious meal. I’ve read the whole series, and the books did just get worse as they went along. The last one especially made me start to really analyze what I had read, and the impressions that the books would be leaving upon the millions of young girls reading them and I have since become more and more perturbed over it all.
    Also, yes I did go see the movie and it was not great cinema. I could go on in greater detail about this, too, but maybe another time…


  33. Kate #

    In addition to Twilight showing weak women, the original premise of this post is now slightly invalidated by this news: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/scott-mendelson/catherine-hardwicke-remov_b_149137.html

    If they don’t like the female director enough to keep her on for the whole franchise, you can’t really say it was a brilliant step in her career, and definitely not a bold step forward for women directors everywhere.


  34. Matthew Belinkie OTI Staff #

    Kate –
    Yeah, I was thinking of writing a followup. It ALSO turns out that Twilight may not break into the top 100 highest-grossing films of all-time after all. So I guess it’s a big bummer for women (except for, of course, the countless millions of women who love it).
    – Matt


  35. Gab #

    Maybe she’s pregnant and the baby is eating through her womb.


  36. Zombie #

    I read something earlier today about the history of women writers that goes back to Medieval literature. Since the art of film making hasn’t been around for long I see a similarity to the facts mentioned above and the development of female writers.

    Sadly, I hate knowing that it comes from such trash as “Twilight”.


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