WWW: Pelo Malo and Venezuelan Pop Music from the 70s

pelo malo juniorThis week we have an amazing film resource from Venezuela, 2013’s internationally-acclaimed Bad Hair (“Pelo Malo”). Writer/Director Mariana Rondón brings us this incredibly poignant story about a young boy named Junior who is obsessed with straightening his thick, curly hair, an obsession that drives his mother into a panic over her son’s masculinity.

Earlier this week, ¡Mira, Look! featured Laura Lacámara’s phenomenal book, Dalia’s Wondrous Hair (El cabello maravilloso de Dalia), a book that shares so many amazing similarities with today’s film, Bad Hair.  Firstly, and most obvious, they both deal with a child’s mix of struggle and enjoyment in learning to deal with their hair.  Both of the writers are women who come from Latin American countries with Caribbean coastline and strong Afrolatino cultures.  And, in the end, they both deal with love – love of community, love of family and love of self. That being said, let’s dive into some of the most salient points of Bad Hair, a film that will have you laughing and crying, and will surely leave you wanting to know more about life in Caracas, Venezuelan history, but mostly, it will leave you with a particular song stuck in your head.

nelly ramos singingIt is unclear exactly why Junior’s straightened hair bothers his mother so much, as there seem to be a mix of reasons.  What is clear, however, is that Junior’s mother has naturally straight hair, and is frustrated with dealing with Junior’s.  What else is clear is that Junior’s grandmother, who takes care of him while his mother works, has hair more similar to Junior’s, and she is delighted to help Junior straighten his hair.  Junior explains to her that he wants his hair straightened so he can become a singer in a music video.  Towards the end of this trailer (at minute 1:28), you can see Junior’s grandmother even teaching him how to sing and dance to a particular song, “Limón, Limonero”.  Not only is this song catchy and this scene particularly moving and full of love, but the singer of this track, Henry Stephen, was an Afrolatino who straightened his hair during various parts of his career.

grupo maderaThe actress who plays Junior’s grandmother, Nelly Ramos, was also an Afrolatino Venezuelan singer; in fact she was a contemporary of Henry Stephen and founded Grupo Madera in the 70s.  Nelly Ramos also grew up in the same neighborhood, Parroquía San Agustín, of high-rise, low-income housing in Caracas where the film is set. When interviewed by the magazine El Nacional, Nelly Ramos said that she does not like the terms afro-descendant or Afrolatino, rather she prefers the term black, or “negra”, because this adjective is that which has confronted discrimination throughout the globe.  Ramos said she was scared when approached by the casting director; due to the title, she felt it might be a movie that would reinforce stereotypes against which she’d spent her life fighting. However, once she was involved in the making of the film, she found the opposite to be true.  To expose and reflect on experiences of certain people that normally do not get attention by wider audiences has the power to break down stereotypes by fighting ignorance, instead of reinforcing them.

Here is a list of some possible media sources to utilize in class!:

  1. Trailers and video media containing scenes with Nelly Ramos and Junior
  2. Official Webpage of Pelo Malo, (check out “clips” tab for more short video!) 
  3. Fantastic NPR piece on Pelo Malo film
  4. Webpage with photos of Nelly Ramos’ music group Grupo Madera
  5. Amazing original music video of “Limón, Limonero” by Henry Stephen
  6. Interview with Nelly Ramos discussing film

** Note to Readers: I hope this information and these resources are useful in class!! If you have any suggestions or feedback, comments are very much appreciated.  Thanks so much and have a wondrous weekend everyone!! 🙂 **

Images: Pelo Malo Fim Official Webpage ; (Grupo Madera) Juan José González in Despertar Universitario



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