There was something awfully predictable about the news that, in the wake of her admission that she had an affair with the film’s director Rupert Sanders, Kristen Stewart will no longer be the main character in subsequent Snow White and the Huntsman movies, if she plays a role in them at all. It’s still unclear what, exactly, is going to happen with the burgeoning franchise after the initial movie made $391 million at the box office earlier this year. The Hollywood Reporter initially said that the movies that follow will be treated as if they’re a spinoff focusing on Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman and that Stewart will not be involved in any capacity, though Sands may be back to direct. And the Los Angeles Times later reported that she could return as a supporting character. Either way, her demotion is a depressing referendum on the unequal blame apportioned between the married Sanders and Stewart, and the end of a potential female-centered action fantasy franchise.
Back when the news broke of Stewart and Sanders’ affair, I wrote that Stewart is, more than any other actress of her cohort, defined by her roles as a fairy tale princess, and the female half of eternal love stories, particularly as Bella Swann in the Twilight franchise. That she was in a long-term relationship with her Twilight co-star Robert Pattinson extended the on-screen fantasy into the real world. But if Stewart is unqualified to play a pure romantic heroine because she lapsed in her committment to her relationship, why is Sanders, who after all, unlike Stewart, was married with children, still qualified to orchestrate a fairy tale? It’s patently absurd to suggest that actors and directors need to bring relevant life experience to their projects (if true, there would be a lot more women helming Hollywood productions) and live according to the morals of their characters. But if we’re going to apply that standard to Stewart, there’s something infuriating about the thought of Sanders going professionally scot-free and keeping his job while she loses hers.
And that she lost this job is particularly frustrating. This has been a year where three movies with women as tough action heroes made more than $300 million at the worldwide box office: The Hunger Games, Prometheus, and Snow White and the Huntsman. Even though The Avengers still can’t muster a superpowered woman as a full-fledged member of the team, Anne Hathaway made off with Bruce Wayne’s mother’s necklace and much of The Dark Knight Rises as potential spin-off subject Selina Kyle. It seemed like a moment where we could expect years of female-lead action franchises. A world where bow-wielding Katniss Everdeen was fighting in the Hunger Games, Elizabeth Shaw was exploring the mysteries of the universe, and Snow White was strapping on armor and leading her troops into battle would be one with a lot more to offer women who love action movies than the current crop of muscle-bound boys. Stewart’s demotion is a reminder of how tenuous that promise still is, and that failures by women in Hollywood, whether personal or at the box offices, seem more likely to lead to loss of opportunities for them than for men.
But as frustrating as this is, maybe it’s an opportunity for Stewart to reinvent herself, free from fans’ expectations that her relationship with Pattinson be as perfect as Edward and Bella’s, free from the obligations of a franchise. She’s never seemed particularly comfortable with the burden of Hollywood princesshood. Part of Stewart’s appeal to me has always been her decidedly undone hair, her comfort in jeans, her skepticism of the Hollywood star machine. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, especially when you’re expected to keep it on in private as well as in public. It’s time for Stewart to trade it in as she figures out the next phase of her career and life.