Warner Bros. Remains Firm on Towelhead


Recently the Council on American-Islam Relations (CAIR) asked Warner Bros. and Warner Independent Pictures to change the title of Alan Ball’s upcoming film, Towelhead. Warner Bros. has refused to change the name and, several days ago, writer-director Alan Ball expressed in a statement why the title would remain. Now, Alicia Erian, author of the novel on which the film is based, and Warner Independent Pictures have released their own statements explaining the reasoning behind their decision.

In her statement, Erian says, “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.”

She continues, “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.

Erian concludes, “Towelhead, like its many cousins—nigger, spic, gook, etc.—is an ugly word. The job of the artist, however, has been, and always will be, to highlight that which is ugly in the hopes of finding something beautiful. This charge, by necessity, will at times put the artist at odds with admirable groups such as CAIR. The solution, it seems to me, is not to force the artist to alter his or her work, but instead to use the occasion of that work as an entry point for meaningful debate and discussion.”

The statement from Warner Independent Pictures says, “One of the ideas conveyed in the film is that we all make assumptions about each other, without knowing, based on racial stereotypes. It was our goal in releasing Towelhead to help make this point. Some of our past releases, like Paradise Now, were extremely controversial and elicited demands that the film not be released; Good Night, and Good Luck drew criticism from some as well. Warner Bros. supported the release of these films then, as they do now of Towelhead, as a medium to create dialogue and support the expression of ideas, as controversial or as unpopular as they may be. We apologize for any offense that is caused by this title but support Alan Ball and Alicia Erian in this effort.”

Regardless of how these statements will be perceived by CAIR and the Muslim community, it is clear the debate has fueled thought provoking and soul-searching conversation from those associated with the film.

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