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Alan Ball and Alicia Erian Defend Title of Towelhead

by
August 28, 2008

Towelhead

Unbeknownst to us, the Council on American-Islam Relations (aka CAIR) has been arguing with Warner Brothers to change the name of the upcoming indie film Towelhead. Thankfully they resisted and in turn have asked that the author of the book and writer/director Alan Ball provide some explanations behind the name. In an effort to support some indie films ourselves, I've decided to feature some of their statements. While I haven't seen Towelhead yet, I've heard great things and it was one of the films that everyone in Warner Independent Studios supported before it was disbanded and combined with Warner Brothers.

If there is one person who can justify the title more than anyone, it's Alicia Erian, who wrote the book that the movie is based on and titled it "Towelhead" despite she is an Arab-American herself. Here is her statement on the title, which I think wonderfully explains why it's such a perfect choice.

"As an Arab-American woman, I am of course aware that the title of my book is an ethnic slur. Indeed, I selected the title to highlight one of the novel's major themes: racism. In the tradition of Dick Gregory's autobiography Nigger, the Jewish magazine Heeb, or the feminist magazine Bitch, the title is rude and shocking, but it is not gratuitous. Besides the fact that the main character must endure taunting about her ethnicity (including being called a towelhead), so much of the novel's plot is fueled by the characters' attitudes toward race."

Additionally, the incredibly talented gay filmmaker Alan Ball gave a strong opinion on the title as well.

"As a gay man, I know how it feels to be called hateful names simply because of who I am. Therefore, I felt it was important to retain the title of Alicia Erian's novel, in which she so effectively dramatizes the pain inflicted by such language, something many people of non-minority descent never have to face. I believe one of the unintended consequences of forbidding such words to be spoken is imbuing those words with more power than they should ever have, and helping create the illusion that the bigotry and racism expressed by such cruel epithets is less prevalent than it actually is, which we all know is sadly not the case."

Most people probably won't remember, but Towelhead was actually titled Nothing Is Private when it played at the Toronto Film Festival last year. Towelhead was the original name of the book and was the title that Warner Brothers decided to keep for the film's US debut. I applaud Warner for standing up against the complaints from CAIR, not only for the integrity of cinema and keeping a strikingly realistic and attention-grabbing title, but for the exact reasons that both Alicia and Alan explained above. If you haven't yet seen it, be sure to check out the trailer and keep your eye on the film this fall. It is controversial and is a tough subject for some to swallow, but it's a fine film and one that shouldn't go unnoticed.

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  • Peloquin
    It's sad that issues like this hinder the progress of a film...since when did freedom of speech have an asterisks at the end?
  • Phil
    I think Alan Ball is a visionary, and knows how to tell a story. I can't wait for this film for those reasons, but most of all - more music from Thomas Newman. Three soundtracks from the man this year (WALL*E, Towelhead, and Revolutionary Road). If there is a God, this man will be on stage at next year's Oscars.

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