Towelhead Alan Ball

Towelhead Alan Ball
This DVD release may attract the audience this dark comedy deserves. Fearing a perceived racial backlash, Warner never got behind this film when they briefly released it last fall. It didn't matter that the screenwriter of American Beauty and the creator of Six Feet Under was the writer and director. Never mind that the story is based on an acclaimed novel by Alicia Erian. Ball sticks closely to Erian's work, telling the journey of pretty adolescent Jasira (Summer Bishil), who discovers her sexuality and racial identity in Houston during the 1991 Gulf War. Jasira's insecure, WASP-y mother discovers that her boyfriend shaved Jasira's inner thighs and sends Jasria to live with her strict dad (Peter Macdissi, the psycho art teacher from Six Feet Under) in suburban Houston. Macdissi is note-perfect as Jasira's anal-retentive and abusive dad who forbids her from wearing a tampon or seeing her coloured boyfriend (Eugene Jones). Meanwhile, school kids call Jasira "sand nigger" and "towelhead." Lacking affection, Jasira falls prey to redneck neighbour Mr. Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart), who hires her to baby-sit his bratty blonde son before molesting her. The only voice of acceptance in Jasira's tortured world is kind neighbour Melinda (Toni Collette) and her husband, who shelter the battered Jasira. Towelhead made critics squirm during its 2007 festival run, under the title Nothing Is Private. They slammed Alan Ball for portraying Vuoso's affair with the 13-year-old Jasira; for her masturbating to Vuoso's men's magazines that his son discovers under his bed; and for exposing the blood on Jasira's panties during her first menstruation. In other words, it's perfectly all right for a middle age white guy to chase an underage teenage girl if it's told from the man's point of view, as in American Beauty, but it's sleazy when we see it through the girl's eyes. Critics, many of whom are white, also missed the film's racial dialogue. According to Hollywood, the only races are white and black. However, Erian and Ball introduce a fresh and timely voice: Arabs. Adding a further twist is Jasira's relationship with her boyfriend. Towelhead deserves credit for presenting a true and complex picture of American race. The title itself is a slur and must've terrified Warner so much that they included on this DVD two thoughtful panels between the filmmakers and leaders of the of American Sikh and Arab communities debating the title. If the film makes you squirm, it's supposed to. Towelhead is a harrowing coming-of-age story of an abused girl, tormented by her father and an intolerant society. It is also very funny, subversively so. These are uncomfortable laughs, like those in Borat. We laugh because we see the truth in the drama. Perhaps DVD audiences will find this truth too. (Warner)