Pelo Malo Is A Peep Into Latin America’s Race Relations

Abhishek Srivastava - 38 weeks ago

Pelo Malo in Spanish means ‘bad hair’ and that also is the core of this Venezuelan film in which the plot centers around the relationship between the protagonist (a boy veering towards adolescence) and his mother.

Director Mariana Rondon as part of her research for the film roamed the streets of Caracas and observed the people and its socio-culture milieu closely. In an earlier interview she had mentioned that she was interested in making a film which showed the importance to respect the right to be different and think differently.

The plot of the film revolves around a nine-year old boy who harbours ambitions of looking like his favourite pop singer by straightening his hair for his school picture. Slowly and gradually a battle unfolds between the son and her mother, who thinks he might be gay. In the process, the film also delves deep dive into a slice of the Venezuelan society by exposing its racism, violence, poverty, politics and homophobia among its people. Junior with his thick dark curls represents his ethnic background from Africa and throughout the film he desperately tries all the possible ways to straighten his hair which angers his mother who only wishes his son to be as normal like any other child of his age.

(A still from Pelo Malo)

Mariana opted to shoot her film amidst massive housing development of Caracas which adds to the milieu of the film. The buildings were she shot of her film were built in 1950 (designed by famous Swiss architect le Corbusier). The primary reason for the construction of these buildings was the fact that it was an experiment to create a Utopian society. Through her film, Mariana also raises the question that what happened to the concept?

The film also is political in nature as the shadow of Hugo Chavez looms large over the film. Mariana believes that in tune with the plot of the story, it was important for her to incorporate the civic and the political movement that had gripped the country. The film also brings to the forefront the deep rooted racial sentiments that’s now inherent to Venezuelan society. It also peals the concern of people about fascist trends that might come along after the death of Chavez. The film successfully initiated a conversation about gender expectations and sexuality in Venezuela after its release. Many viewers felt uncomfortable confronting the social awareness of race and sexuality in the country and the controversy it created upon its release bothered many.

(A still from Pelo Malo)

Samuel Lange Zambrano who plays Junior in the film was not Mariana’s first choice. In fact, when Samuel gave his audition for the film the director was least impressed. But despite the rejection, he insisted for more auditions which finally helped him clinch the film. The film since its debut at the Toronto Film Festival in 2013 has won more than 41 awards including Best Film at the San Sebastian Film Festival in Spain.

Pelo Malo is a poignant depiction of the relationship between a mother and her son where they vie for one-upmanship and try get under the other’s skin. It’s a film that demands repeated viewing.

(Pelo Malo is currently playing at myNK)


Mariana Rondón/ Samuel Lange Zambrano / Samantha Castillo / Beto Benites / Venezuela / Bad Hair

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of The Film Hashery.

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