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I don't know if you've noticed, but Kristen Stewart has usurped the throne to become the internet's wifey, a throne that the J.Laws and the Emmas (Stone and Watson) have both graced. But there's something singular about Kristen's position as one of the most crushed-on actresses of our generation right now, not only in the irony that she would never agree to be our wifey (neither mine nor yours!), but also in her unusual ascension, her complete 180 from having been one of the most despised young stars. The K-Stew hate is as superficial and petty as the hate for, say, Anne Hathaway (way too try-hard) or Jennifer Lawrence, who's seem to have become more of an annoying presence the more she insists she's just like us. At the end of the day, their offenses are innocuous, but they're celebrities and we love to put irrational feelings and expectations on them.
In 2013, The Cut listed the 20 most hated celebrities with the headline "Anne Hathaway Not the Most Hated Person in Hollywood." Kristen Stewart placed No. 2 on that list, just below the human goop that is Gwyneth Paltrow. Here are some reasons for which Kristen Stewart gets—or, used to get—shit: She doesn't smile enough. She has a bad attitude. She's unapproachable. She'll say she hates fame, but then star in popular franchises like Twilight and Snow White and the Huntsman. All things that might point to "ungrateful" or “hypocritical.” Admittedly, I wasn't a Kristen Stewart fan either, at least not during the early Twilight days. Her indifference in the press irked me. I thought her acting was bad. "With great fame comes great Internet snark, and Stewart has fast become one of the most vilified actresses in Hollywood," wrote Marlow Stern for The Daily Beast in 2012. "She’s been pigeonholed by her detractors as a second-rate actress onscreen—thanks to the frustratingly emo, emotionally hollow character, Bella Swan, that she portrays in the underwhelming Twilight films—and a sneering, self-important Katherine Heigl-lite who’s run out of fucks to give."
And then of course, there's her personal life. She fell into an inescapable spotlight and her fame happened to coincide with the Internet era of stardom. Her real-life romance with onscreen partner Robert Pattinson splashed TMZ headlines and was a constant subject of scrutiny, and then her infamous affair with Huntsman director Rupert Sanders, a married man, villainized her even further. "I think that the big criticism of Kristen was the scandal with Rupert Sanders," Mackenzie Kruvant, Senior Editor at Buzzfeed, tells me in regards to her haters. "I think that people just couldn’t move past the fact that it ended his marriage.” Or that it effectively ended K-Stew and R-Patz, a celebrity couple that so many had become almost dangerously invested in.
Up until then, Stewart seemed more like a tabloid staple than a serious actress. She’s impressed since her impressive performance in Panic Room at a mere 11 years old and between Twilight movies starred in indie gems like Adventureland in 2009 and The Runaways the following year—roles that planted seeds that would eventually come to be full-blown admiration for Kristen—but it wasn't until much more recently that we came around to her completely. “Until her more recent detours into art house cinema, Kristen Stewart could only garner as much respect as the films she starred in, the problem being that so many of them never let her do all that much,” Jen Yamato, Entertainment Reporter at The Daily Beast, tells me. “That reputation for being awkward and angsty in interviews was well-earned, time and again, with every press tour in which Stewart did herself no favors by alienating media and film critics with her frustrating brand of aloofness.”
But something clicked. We started loving her for that. Her past mistakes and the flaws we harshly pinpointed became the things that made her endearingly human. And I'm not alone in feeling the K-Stew effect. “The Twilight stardom simultaneously made and broke her, but the root of K-Stew hate grew from the external expectations we force on any celebrity,” says Yamato. “We want them to happily embrace fame and its pitfalls and embody our wish-fulfillment fantasies, or at least let us spy on their worst moments when they screw up. The schadenfreude is too delicious to resist. Stewart’s been so rebelliously human in her failure to live up to this ideal that she became both object of scrutiny and an idol to be protected from said scrutiny. If she hadn’t seemed to care so much, to be so earnestly mortified by the public glare, it might not have been half as appetizing for the fans and haters alike.”
The attacks on her public persona died down the more refined her filmography became. “I witnessed a profound change in the perception of Kristen,” says Maud, 30, who runs the fansite Adoring Kristen Stewart, one of many—and I mean so many—out there. “First in 2012, and then again last year when she won the César. Like many people say, she is judged by the cover but nobody reads the book.”
Jess, who runs Kristen Stewart News (on Facebook and Twitter as well), echoes the sentiment. "The public's perception is so fickle, especially when it comes to Hollywood figures," she says. "They love you one day, trash you the next.” The turning point—many, including Maud and Jess, will agree—is the César Award she received last year for her understated but impactful role in Olivier Assayas' Clouds of Sils Maria, starring opposite Juliette Binoche, not only one of the best French actresses but arguably one of the best actresses, period. The César Award, equivalent to a French Oscar, put Stewart front and center as a critical darling. She’s also the first American actress to receive it, and that certainly means something. When the French took notice, the rest of the world took it as a big wakeup call.
Many life-long fans of the actress claim they've always been a fan of Kristen Stewart's acting, despite her lowbrow choices. Kruvant says, "Even during Twilight she had a group of critics that called her the future of acting. I think she was always taken seriously in Hollywood, because of her work before Twilight. For that reason I haven’t noticed critics changing their minds that much. As for her acting improving? I think she’s become more comfortable with herself and in her physical space, which just comes with age."
What's incredible about Kristen Stewart is that she's successfully moved on from just being "that girl in Twilight"; anyone in the industry would know it's hard to escape that kind of label when you play such an iconic or well-known role. Yamato says, “K-Stew’s likeability skyrocketed once she did what Bella Swan got lambasted for not doing through the Twilight movies: She stood up for herself. After The Scandal came The Apology, for better or worse, and then the ultimate insult: Public punishment for a sullied Snow White, dumped by her own wannabe girl power franchise.”
This year, Stewart was yet again a Cannes darling, not only setting the red carpet ablaze with her flawless Chanel looks (even sticking to her trademark tomboy roots by rocking sneakers with the Chanel), but also appearing in two big films at the prestigious film festival: Woody Allen's Café Society and Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper, a movie that got booed but critics claim is Stewart at her best. At least it positioned her as an art film muse; despite how bad his new movie is, Assayas' name still means a great deal in the film world. The Variety cover of Kristen Stewart only reaffirmed what we suspected: Kristen Stewart is a reinvented woman. With the death of Bella Swan (in 2012) Kristen Stewart found new life. Now she's one of my favorite actresses. Even in an atrocious film like Anesthesia, a small indie from early this year, Kristen Stewart gives a tear-jerking performance. She’s become the kind of actress where her name on a bill alone will get me to buy tickets.
Stewart keeps proving to be the best part of everything she's involved in. She stars opposite Nicholas Hoult in her latest, Equals, a love story set in a dystopian future, and her complete dedication as an artiste really shows. "She's got a lot of passion. Sometimes she almost cares too much," the film's director Drake Doremus tells me, debunking the uncaring myth of K-Stew. "She could be really hard on herself, actually, when it comes to the work and trying to do it right. It was fun to watch her let go in this and give herself to the process and trust the process. By virtue of that it renders her very vulnerable and very raw in a way that we may have not seen from her before."
There's a sense of vulnerability that surrounds Kristen Stewart—vulnerability because the public has been so hard on her for so many of her formative years. Subsequently, there's a sense of triumph, too, knowing she's survived the vicious press cycle for the entirety of her adult life (Twilight came out when she was 18; now she's 26). It's hard to say if she's become a better person for it, but she's become more comfortable as herself and has been more accepted for it. I think we've also come to realize that her "bad attitude" in public is a function of innate awkwardness, and in turn it’s become charming. There's so much more authenticity to her brand of awkwardness than Jennifer Lawrence's, the tripping and falling and stuffing your face with pizza kind.
"She isn't your average movie star, she's pretty low-key and doesn't crave the spotlight," says Jess (Kristen Stewart News). When she finally came out—or rather, refused to define herself sexually—in a Nylon cover story last year, that's when it really felt like Stewart was embracing her realest self. (Stewart was tied to Alicia Cargile and now singer-songwriter Soko.) "There are very few women who openly date other women in Hollywood and I think it’s important for girls to see that," Kruvant says. "But mostly I’m glad that she’s found a comfortability in who she is."
Of course, Kristen Stewart is far from perfect. She'll work with Woody Allen. She'll cheat on her boyfriend with a married man. She'll star in a flop or two. But she's quickly become an actress to defend, rather than one to crucify. “She can say some ‘oh Kristen, why?’ stuff from time to time,” Kruvant says. “But her life is a bubble and her reality is so skewed. She’s just doing her best to be herself.”