What’s in a Name?

Towelhead” is the title of a forthcoming Warner Brothers movie. The Sikh-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) is not pleased. Today, SALDEF issued a press release in which it states:

The word towelhead is a crude and racist slur that is commonly hurled at Sikhs and has frequently been documented in connection with hate crimes, said Kavneet Singh, SALDEFs Managing Director. Calling a movie Towelhead is like calling a movie Nigger or Gook, and we are shocked that a company like Warner Brothers would even consider using a racial slur as a movie title.

It turns out the movie is based on a 2005 novel by an Arab-American, Alicia Erian. In response to advocacy groups objecting to the title, Erian notes:

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….

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 is not the first time Sikhs have complained of the discriminatory nature of films released by major motion companies. For example, in 2003 Sikh groups called for Miramax to edit portions of a film and trailer in which a turbaned Sikh man is identified as “bin Laden.”

For its part, Warner Bros. has said it will not change the name of the Towelhead film.


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2 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. saihaj says:

    I understand that being called Towelhead is offensive for Muslims and Sikhs but this issue of Warner Bros using a title that is taken directly from the book is problematic. Is the author to blame for initially using the title? Probably not as I think we value an author's freedom of expression. Yes the film will bring more attention to the term but I also think those people who will watch this film are more likely to be educated and less likely to use the term offensively?

  2. saihaj says:

    I understand that being called Towelhead is offensive for Muslims and Sikhs but this issue of Warner Bros using a title that is taken directly from the book is problematic. Is the author to blame for initially using the title? Probably not as I think we value an author’s freedom of expression. Yes the film will bring more attention to the term but I also think those people who will watch this film are more likely to be educated and less likely to use the term offensively?