A new movie is coming out titled, Pelo Malo, where a “beautific-looking" 9-year-old Venezuelan boy is struggling with the dilemma of wanting to straighten his curly hair for a school picture.  Simple, a child’s truth, but there is so much more to it in this heart-wrenching fable by Venezuelan director Mariana Rondón.  Race, class, gender and beauty issues are on display in this movie set on location in a poverty stricken Venezuelan neighborhood.  During a sensitive time in our own country in regards to race and class this movie may strike a chord with many who find themselves grappling with their own social demons.

Such a simple request…to have straight hair, causes a whole host of reactions including homophobic panic from his mother.  There is one visually poignant scene in which we see the child with half of his hair straightened (and he does look like a pretty girl), and the image is powerful as he stares at himself in the mirror and one must wonder what is going through his young mind. You may be able to think back to a time in your childhood or, for transitioners or new naturals, even a year ago, when you were facing yourself in the mirror and wondering who you were and why you look the way you do.  Looking into your soul is a personal and terrifying experience that can awaken the real person who lives inside and is dying to come out, especially in a disapproving family, relationship or world.

This coming of age tale of a boy and his simple request is enveloped in perceptions of beauty, gender, sexuality and class.  His father is black and his paternal-grandmother seems to welcome his freedom of expression, whereas his best friend wants him to look like a soldier and his mother just wants him to look like her son. They are each trying to help him in their own way, as many of our own friends and family have tried to do for us along our curly hair journeys. So much is expected of the young boy in a place where desolation is front and center, that wanting straight hair becomes more than a request and turns into a desire to be released from his surroundings.

Some may trivialize the significance of straightening one’s hair if they have not lived through it, but this film gives a glimpse into the tortured history of curly haired women and men who have struggled with self-acceptance.  I applaud the choice of the director to illustrate how race, gender, class and even age can be symbolized in the curve of a strand.

Pelo Malo is now showing in select cities, including:

  • Santa Fe, Argentina
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • San Diego, USA
  • Miami, USA
  • Houston, USA
  • Madrid, Spain
  • Rome, Italy
  • Torino, Italy
  • Vancouver, Canada