Hello again everybody! After a week off due to other commitments I’m back refreshed and ready finish off No-English Moviember. So here I am once more and this time with my first film from the western hemisphere, the Venezuelan film Pelo Malo (Bad Hair).
Taking on life in the Venezuelan apartment blocks which is anything but comfortable, Pelo Malo follows Junior (Samuel Lange Zambrano) and his single mother Marta (Samantha Castillo) who have a fractious relationship as while Junior wants to straighten his hair and look like a singer in his school photo, Marta is afraid this lack of masculinity equates to him being gay and that it needs to be resolved while also attempting to obtain employment after being sacked for an unspecified reason.
As a commentary on perceived gender attributes and LBGT issues, Pelo Malo succeeds in quite interesting manner. By continuously hinting about Junior’s sexuality through his interactions with Mario (Julio Méndez), his singing, and his wish to obtain straight hair, we get to see the problems of the taboo of men acting in a more traditionally feminine manner.
One scene of note is when at his grandmother Carmen’s (Nelly Ramos) gives Junior a “singer’s suit” for him to wear in his school photo. Although initially overjoyed, Junior realises the femininity within the suit and flees Carmen to his mother. This lets us see how, even though Carmen is more accepting of Junior’s developing sexuality, she still tries to gender him as feminine despite Junior’s obvious revulsion to this, even attempting to buy Junior from Marta so she can raise him the way he should be.
In contrast, Marta takes a very abusive and reactionary stance, seeing Junior’s wish to straighten his hair, dance and generally act in traditionally non-masculine ways, as signs of homosexuality. Not only this, she blames herself and even goes to a pediatrician to see if there is anything medically wrong with him and the way he acts, which bears no fruit. The extent Marta goes to show Junior how “normal” relationships are are, to be frank, nothing short of abuse but just shows how ingrained gender stereotypes and homophobia is in Latin American culture, something which Mariana Rondón does an excellent job to capture in this film.
Rondón also does a fantastic job of highlighting the taboos of accepted norms of beauty and race in Pelo Malo. Indeed Pelo Malo, meaning Bad Hair, is a pejorative term for Latinos born with black, curly hair as it does not conform to the perceived beauty of straight hair commonly found in other races. It’s quite a subtle way in which race is portrayed as Pelo Malo is quite a racially diverse film with this being one of the few points of differentiation, showing that even within supposedly integrated communities, living side by side, still retain certain a certain flavour of racism.
As a piece of entertainment however, I could not say I can heartily recommend Pelo Malo. It is quite a heavy cinematic experience which, despite Castillo’s standout performance of a single mother desperately trying to get work and deal with Junior in her own misguided way, seems to lack that certain something that would make you warrant a return viewing. As a film to understand issues, it is one that should be near the top of your list. As a film to enjoy and recommend to friends, it is a bit of a hit to the gut you may not want to repeat.
Thank you for reading my third No-English Moviember review of 2015! I shall be wrapping up next week but I hope you’ve been enjoying this review series! As always please like my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter as well as here on WordPress and, if you’d like to contribute to the site, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks again for reading!