Towelhead (film)

Towelhead (alternatively titled Nothing Is Private) is a 2007 drama film written and directed by Alan Ball and based on Alicia Erian's novel of the same name. The film made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 8, 2007 under the name Nothing Is Private. The film, like the book, touches on issues of sexual awakening, privacy, and race.

Theatrical release poster
Directed byAlan Ball
Produced byTed Hope
Alan Ball
Screenplay byAlan Ball
Based onTowelhead
by Alicia Erian
StarringAaron Eckhart
Toni Collette
Maria Bello
Peter Macdissi
Summer Bishil
Music byThomas Newman
CinematographyNewton Thomas Sigel
Edited byAndy Keir
Indian Paintbrush
This Is That
Your Face Goes Here Entertainment
Distributed byWarner Independent Pictures
Release date
Running time
124 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$675,662[1]


Set in 1990 amid the Kuwait War of 1990–1991, Towelhead tells the coming-of-age story of a 13-year-old Lebanese American girl named Jasira (Summer Bishil). She first lives with her mother in Syracuse, New York, but when her mother's live-in boyfriend helps Jasira shave her pubic hair, her mother sends Jasira to live with her old-fashioned and domineering Lebanese father Rifat (Peter Macdissi) in suburban Houston, Texas. Jasira is treated as a second class citizen by her overprotective father. He is strict, does not allow her to use tampons, and prefers spending time with his new girlfriend, Thena. Even her mother refuses to support her when she calls and begs for help, forcing Jasira to comply with his rules. Her father acts very disrespectfully towards her and berates her for the slightest thing.

Jasira experiences a sexual awakening at her neighbor's home, which is sparked in part by adult magazines she finds when baby-sitting the next-door neighbor boy Zack Vuoso (Chase Ellison), son of Travis Vuoso (Aaron Eckhart). While Jasira is home alone one night, Mr. Vuoso comes over to retrieve one of his magazines and sexually assaults her. Jasira befriends a classmate, Thomas Bradley (Eugene Jones), eventually becoming sexually active with him. When Rifat finds out about her relationship with Thomas, he forbids her from ever seeing him, only because he is black.

Mr. Vuoso becomes jealous of Jasira's relationship with Thomas, and, pretending he has to go to Iraq the next morning, tricks Jasira into sleeping with him. When Rifat finds one of Mr. Vuoso's adult magazines at his house, he beats Jasira, and she seeks refuge at the home of Melina (Toni Collette) (who is pregnant) and her husband, Gil, neighbors who were aware of and concerned about Mr. Vuoso's inappropriate behavior towards Jasira from the beginning. While staying at their house, Gil notices bruises on Jasira's legs and Rifat angrily knocks on the door wanting to retrieve his daughter. When both Melina and Gil refuse to let Rifat in, he threatens to call the police and claim that they kidnapped his daughter, but Gil responds to Rifat that he will tell them about the bruises he left on Jasira. She goes to school the next day and Melina picks her up, along with Thomas. When they make it back home, they decide to have sex, but are almost caught by Melina.

Later, Rifat visits the couple along with Thena. He notices Thomas is in the house and angrily confronts him. He also reveals why he despises him. He then decides to check the house and discovers a condom in the trash. He assumes Thomas is responsible for taking his daughter's virginity and attempts to assault him. This forces Jasira to confess that she had sex with Mr. Vuoso, who is then arrested and bailed out the next day.

Thomas talks with Jasira about her abuse from Mr. Vuoso, and explains that he doesn't want to have sex with her anymore. She says she does not want to stop. One day after school, Jasira retrieves the corpse of Travis' cat, which ran off after she came by his house and was accidentally run over by Rifat on his way home. When Melina sees Jasira talking to Mr. Vuoso, she runs outside to stop the conversation, but trips and falls down on the ground, which causes her to bleed and go into labor. While at the hospital, Rifat is asked by Jasira to accompany Melina in the delivery room, since her husband won't make it in time. When Rifat refuses to stay, he finally decides to trust Jasira and let her stay and live with Melina, which makes her very happy. He leaves the delivery room and Jasira witnesses Melina giving birth to a baby girl.


Critical reception

Towelhead received mixed reviews from critics; Rotten Tomatoes reports that 48% of critics have given the film a positive review, based on 114 reviews with an average rating of 5.3 out of 10 with the consensus that "This story of politics, race and sexual awakening has moments that pack a punch, but overall, Towelhead never quite achieves the nuance of helmer Alan Ball's television work."[2] The film also holds a score of 57 out of 100 on Metacritic based on 31 reviews.[3]


  1. "Towelhead (2008) - Box Office Mojo". Retrieved 28 July 2018.
  2. "Towelhead Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2009-06-26.
  3. "Towelhead (2008): Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2009-06-26.
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