“The strangest part about being famous is you don’t get to give first impressions anymore. Everyone already has an impression of you before you meet them.”
When people think of Kristen Stewart, they usually think of one of three things: Twilight, Robert Pattinson, or my personal favourite, “I hate her”. It’s my personal favourite because I love to disprove a mindset rooted in outdated bigotry, which is often the case with those who think they hate a Hollywood actress based upon a 10-year old perception.
It’s not 2012 anymore. The implication that Stewart is rude and unsociable, and that this somehow makes her an inadequate artist, is tired.
Having been the highest paid actress in 2012, Stewart is of course a household name; she was in one of the most popular and highly anticipated film franchises of all time – as the main character nonetheless. Due to the general public’s frequent “wow, this actress is so talented! Let’s praise her and boost her confidence until she starts to believe in herself, then rip it all away because how dare she believe in herself?” mentality, it’s no surprise that Stewart experienced constant scrutiny and hatred in her late teens and early twenties – to the point where she was unable to discern the very perpetuated rumours about herself and Rupert Sanders during their brief but public affair because “who would have believed [her]”, as she stated during a podcast interview with Howard Stern in 2019, wherein the two discuss the extent to which her mistake ostracised her from the general public and even the industry, causing her to be written out of the sequel of Snow White and the Huntsman (2012).
So it’s time to set the record straight. It’s true that Kristen Stewart is only human, and humans make mistakes, but they’re also so much more than their past mistakes, past scrutiny, or past selves. And Kristen Stewart, who has just been nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Princess Diana in Spencer (2021), is certainly more than Twilight, more than her ex-boyfriend, and more than her haters make her out to be.
I find Stewart to be one of the most inspirational and modern women out there. She is known for standing up for what she believes in and irrevocably being herself in all situations, whether on set, in an interview, or fending off the paparazzi whom she dubs ‘cockroaches’. She isn’t perfect and she doesn’t claim to be, and that’s what makes her so unique.
In an industry so fiercely dominated by male producers, directors, and actors, it is (unfortunately) still exciting to me when an equally-as-assertive actress catches my attention. To make it in Hollywood, for so many decades the play for women has been to smile and nod, take what is offered to you and be grateful that you’re in the room at all. The play has not been to be authentic, intelligent, or dominate the space. Anna Kendrick, one of Stewart’s Twilight co-stars, states in her memoir Scrappy Little Nobody that “in a professional sense, [the label] ‘nice’ is [hard] to earn…because ‘nice’ often means she did what we told her to do, no questions asked.” With this definition, it becomes understandable why Stewart has instead been labelled as being ‘emotionless’, ‘disrespectful’, and ‘untalented’.
“Hate me for who I am, I don’t care. At least I’m not pretending to be someone I’m not.”
For Stewart, it seems the world is incessant on making it impossible for her to win. As a teenager, she was so shy that people mistook quietness for aloofness, and aloofness was naturally equated with rudeness. However now, at the age of 31, she is so unapologetically confident and genuine when speaking of her approach to play Princess Diana, and so honest about how in love she is with her fiancé Dylan Meyer, that people either admire her courage or have begun to find her confidence to be unbearable. They wonder why this queer woman feels the need to shove her sapphic agenda in their faces or why she feels connected to a princess, and ask where the quiet actress who could barely speak has gone – because at least that one was too shy to be honest and too private to be obvious. The double standard is rife.
Her love for film, and for Spencer specifically, is truly represented in the past five or so months of near non-stop interviews, and even more so in her remarkable performance, which has been dubbed “the performance of her life” by Peter Travers. She has won over 25 critics awards for Best Actress so far, which makes her portrayal of Princess Diana the most awarded performance of the year. In any season, such a large awards sweep is rare. Of course, critics do not hold any true significance to whether Kristen is an inspiring female creative, but I think it does highlight just how transparent and tangible she is as an artist; amongst these awards and nominations has been the shock of her SAG and BAFTA snubs, which had companies such as Variety, W Magazine, Letterboxd and Deadline showing their support for Stewart alongside the wider film community voicing outrage.
Still, the passion and soul and wisdom that Stewart speaks about Spencer with, has led me to falling further in love with cinema and script work, and even beyond that, with the art of filmmaking itself. She is an incredible inspiration to me on so many levels; as an actor, a writer, and a director. Speaking in an interview with Backstage, Stewart’s passion for her lifestyle shined through “There are things, whether they’re ways of expressing an idea, an evocative image, an evocative sound, that are truer than the truth. That’s what cinema gives us; it gives us this manifestation of dreams. We get to actually take the most inside notions and externalise them, find pictures and words for them.”
I also admire that the actress stays true to her idea of expression in art. She will begin filming her directional debut, The Chronology of Water, soon and is developing a gay ghost-hunting reality tv series with a friend. She has portrayed queer romances on screen such as in Lizzie (2018) and Happiest Season (2020), on which she was proud to work with Clea Duvall (writer and director of Happiest Season), who also starred in the famous breakthrough film But I’m A Cheerleader (1999) in a time far less accepting of queer cinema. To see Stewart being so unapologetically truthful and working on projects that not only speak to her but also an entire community of underrepresented and misidentified people is possibly the most inspiring thing of all. To know that whilst she does not claim to be a role model, she understood the impact she could make just by holding hands with girlfriends in public and stating she was “like, so gay, dude” on SNL, and to know that she takes every opportunity to make an industry that already accepts her as a talented individual more accessible for others in the face of bigotry is marvellous and moving.
Usually, it would feel difficult to write so extensively about someone you have never met and who has no public social media that I could go through, but one of Stewart’s redeeming qualities is her candidness. She can make everyone feel as though they know everything about her with just a few words. And in some sense, everyone does know; there is an obvious bluntness and honesty in her speech – even her jokes hold weight. Her thoughtful approach and lack of ambiguity is what I think makes her so appealing – a movie star in her own right, an A-lister, but also a genuine human being, the type you hope to encounter more in life, and the kind you want to model yourself after. Stewart does not claim to be a saviour, nor a queer icon (though she absolutely is).
She claims simply to be herself.
Illustration by Marcelina Jagielka