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September 12, 2008


Cherry Bomb
Racist Sexploitation Movie is Unspeakable
By Cole Smithey


As its openly racist title implies "Towelhead" is an exploitation movie that wears its shock value on its guilty sleeve. It is the most disgusting, ethically reprehensible, and irresponsible film to come out of the 21st century's first decade. Screenwriter/first-time feature director Alan Ball (screenwriter on "American Beauty") paints himself a darker hue than even pedophile-styled filmmaker Larry Clark ("Bully") in making a film, based on Alicia Erian's novel, that unrelentingly returns to its primary narrative subject of a 13-year-old girl's genitalia and its every function. Jasira (Summer Bishil) is sent by her mother Gail (Maria Bello) to live with her effeminate Lebanese father Rifat Maroun (Peter Macdissi) in a Houston suburb after Gail discovers that her live-in boyfriend shaved Jasira's pubic hair because she was teased about it at school. Upon arrival at her physically abusive father's house Jasira gets her first period and soon develops a habit of public masturbation by rhythmically squeezing her legs together. Turned on by her neighbor Mr. Vuoso's (Aaron Eckhart) nudie magazines that she masturbates to when she baby-sits his 10-year-old son, Jasira describes to the married man how doing so gives her "orgasms." Mr. Vuoso takes advantage of the situation to manually steal the girl's virginity before she begins an active sexual relationship with a black boy at school after he verbally dominates her by calling her a "sand nig***" and a "camel jockey." This is a movie that has the potential to scar viewers both young and old, and should be avoided at all cost. As Roger Ebert said of the film "Dirty Love," this movie "wasn’t written and directed; it was committed."

In an interview with Elvis Mitchell, Quentin Tarantino made an interesting point about a director’s responsibility for knowing the backstory of his film’s universe. He gave an example from "Kill Bill" about the Hatori Hanso samurai sword as being a bloodthirsty blade compelled to always draw blood whenever it is unsheathed, even if it means that its user must prick his own finger with its razor-sharp tip. It’s the kind of distinction that helps explain how Tarantino is a great filmmaker, and Alan Ball is a hack because Ball evinces no depth of knowledge to assure his audience of his intention.

Ball has been quoted as promising its Arab-American author Alicia Erian that he would make sure his film version of her novel stayed "funny." The only moment of numb sarcastic humor comes late in the story when Rifat’s crunchy-Granola neighbor Gil (Matt Letscher) unexpectedly speaks Arabic to the negligent father Rifat as a means of intimidation. It’s a damning instant that shows the filmmaker out of touch with the film’s social universe. The would-be sympathetic neighbor breaks character by disclosing a language ability that he was indebted to have disclosed with his Middle Eastern acquaintance if not for some ulterior motives that vis-à-vis threaten the audience.

"Towelhead" is not a comedy, but a cheap sexual exploitation melodrama with no ethical compass. Nearly every scene carries some prurient content meant to shock and titillate for the sake of conveying "underage" characters (all actors were over 18 when the film was made) having inappropriate sexualized experiences. It is a movie without context, although it uses the Iraq war to feign political circumstance. To say that its protagonist’s actions are defensible via her suggestible innocence is to deny the fury with which she pursues her very public sexual encounters that hinge on her feigned humiliation in proximity to supervising or intruding adults. Every character here is a pillager with a hidden agenda that is never disclosed because the filmmaker doesn’t bother to develop such answers.

"Towelhead" was originally titled "Nothing is Private." However the producers chose one they could bait the Council on American-Islam Relations because, in the author’s words, "people who are likely to use terms like "towelhead" to refer to Muslims are neither the audience for my book, nor for the film." The subtext here is that no one should see the movie because you would, in reality, have to speak its title to purchase your ticket. I urge against it.

(Warner Independent Pictures) Rated R. 116 mins. (F) (Zero Stars)


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