'Towelhead' Apologies Break New Ground in Studio CynicismIf it's the last thing it ever does — and it probably will be — Warner Independent Pictures is bound and determined to wring every last bit of notoriety out of the $1.5 million it spent last year on Alan Ball's merde du jour directing debut Towelhead. And almost a full 12 months after the film met its Toronto Film Festival premiere audience with a splat heard 'round the world, the doomed mini-major's quest to culturally salvage what's left of the rape-and-racism coming-of-age drama has tapped into yet another free-publicity boon: The Council on American-Islam Relations finally came around the other day to condemn the title Towelhead and urge a name change. We know nobody saw that coming. But things got a little sketchier late Wednesday as Ball and source novelist Alicia Erian each issued statements responding to the CAIR kerfuffle, invoking their minority status to deflect the charge that Towelhead is anything but a cynical tug on the pantleg of jaded viewers everywhere. Their two cents is after the jump, along with a few reasons you should see right through it.This ultimately comes down to the principals hanging themselves by their own ropes, starting with race-card shark Arian:
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. ... This is not to say that I don't find these concerns legitimate — I absolutely do. We live in a racist society, one in which people continue to use ethnic slurs to delineate those who are different than they are. Realistically speaking, though, these people are neither the audience for my book, nor for the film. They will continue to use whatever language they wish whether or not a movie called Towelhead is released. For this reason, I am pleased that Warner Bros. is standing by the title.
Got it. Then Ball got loose with his homo creds:
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.
WIP threw in some spin for good measure ("Good Night, and Good Luck drew criticism from some as well") along with a few "experts," but first things first: The film was never called Towelhead until after it was roundly brutalized at Toronto under the title Nothing is Private; Warners lay low for a few months, quietly reclaimed the title of Erian's novel, and traveled with it to Sundance last January for a reboot of sorts. Alas, Towelhead's intellectual and aesthetic qualities (or lack thereof; you be the judge Sept. 12) — not its name — continued to precede it through its abortive fest cycle, with WIP's pulled plug soon contributing as well to an early-fall dump. It's an institutional thing, really: Its sister company Picturehouse issued The Women the same fate, with Warners promoting both films in New York opposite each other two weeks from today — when 90 percent of film journalists are still up north covering Toronto. So anyway, when Ball, Erian and the WIP brigade as a whole say they know about discrimination, we can't necessarily argue. But we can — and should — point out for the record that their exploitation artistry exceeds their sensitivity, and whatever lipstick they want to slather on their pig in advance of its release back into the wild is ultimately a waste of perfectly good makeup. Did CAIR miss the point? Maybe. But Towelhead got what it wanted. So, no — apology not accepted, gang. Off you go.