The Theme of Sexuality in Bad Hair

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Films provide an important platform for artists and filmmakers to explore various social, economic, and political issues according to Nelmes (2012). Although based on fictional narratives, films that explore issues that affect people in human society are an important source of knowledge and personal growth. The film Bad Hair (Rondón 2013), examines how challenging it is to be different in society. The film explores the challenges that individuals face in trying to express their individuality while limited in their desire by societal norms and expectations. This paper argues that Bad Hair is a film that discusses how it can be challenging to be different in a society defined by norms and expectations. The paper examines the themes of sexuality and gendered stereotypes, coming-of-age, ethnicity, and cultural belonging in the film to establish the challenges faced by people that strive to express their individuality in a society defined by norms.

Societal Norms in Bad Hair

The film Bad Hair examines the challenges faced by a young boy perceived to be struggling with his sexuality in a society where individuals are expected to be attracted to the opposite sex. Homosexuality is frowned upon in the society in which Junior exists because boys are expected to like girls. Individuals are also expected to exhibit behaviours that align with the preconceived behavioural tendencies of their gender (Lauzen, Dozier and Horan 2008). For instance, Junior has a friend known as La Niña that he likes to spend time with. Both of the children enjoy watching Venezuelan beauty shows on television, a pastime activity that is largely considered a preserve of girls. La Niña enjoys dressing like a princess, factor which the film portrays as a conventional practice for girls in society. Junior's obsession with beauty shows, on the other hand, is strategically positioned in the film to show how different he was with what was expected of boys in society. Additionally, the film uses the issue of taking school pictures to further highlight societal norms regarding gender. Since pupils are allowed to play dress-up during the photo session, La Niña chooses to dress like a princess. The photographer does not raise any issue with her choice of the costume because it is regarded as normal in the society for a girl to dress like a princess. Junior, on the other hand, wants to dress as a singer. He also wants to straighten his hair for the photo session. Both of these choices are considered by the photographer to be feminine. To appear more masculine as is expected of boys in society, the photographer suggests that he dressed as a soldier complete with a gun and hat. The suggestion points to what society has come to expect of boys regarding how they should look and behave. The attitude of society towards those who exhibit behaviours that seem to go against societal expectations concerning sexuality is also exhibited in the car scene where Junior explains to his mother that Grandma is going to make him a suit. While he describes how the suit would fit him, the camera shifts towards his mother's expression. The close-up focus on her face helps the audience to understand how she felt towards her child's mannerisms and interests (Benshoff and Griffin 2011). She is obviously disgusted and uncomfortable with what she might perceive as girly mannerisms and interests in a boy that society expected to behave in a certain way. The expression also shows that she is troubled and almost disgusted by how Junior behaves and acts. The internalisation of societal norms has driven a mother to prevent her child from expressing himself. Marta is more concerned about enforcing societal norms than showing motherly love and affection to her son, and this becomes the key defining factor in the relationship between mother and child. The theme of sexuality and societal expectations towards it is, therefore, an issue that the film discusses in great detail.

Apart from sexuality and gendered stereotypes, Bad Hair also examines the theme of coming-of-age and the challenges that young people face as they grow up and strive to express themselves. Various instances in the film depict Junior as a boy that is gradually transforming into an independent-minded person that is willing to go against his mother’s and societal expectations in order to be himself. Junior understands that his mother does not want him to straighten his hair, an issue that is a major source of discord between mother and child in the film. Instead of conforming to the wishes of his mother, he asks his grandmother if she could straighten his hair. The idea that Junior is willing to bypass his mother and ask his grandmother to straighten his hair shows that he is becoming more assertive concerning his desires and aspirations. The scene where he asks his grandmother whether she could straighten up his hair is particularly interesting because of the intimate relationship between them. Junior plays with the skin of his grandmother, and it can be seen in this particular instance that she has slightly unzipped her dress at the back to let him have his fun. She does not seem to be concerned about his mannerisms, but instead seems to be comforted by his mere presence. The mis-en-scene is carefully designed to show that to an extent, Junior’s grandmother understands him and is accommodative of his choices. The camera angle ensures that the expression on her face is visible to the audience. The choice has been deliberate to enable the audience to connect with the character and even admire her willingness to show affection to a boy that has been shunned by his mother because of his desire to express himself. The manner in which Junior sits behind his grandmother is also an issue of interest. The posture that he assumes is girlish, and this might have been done deliberately by the author to show that while with his grandmother, the boy was comfortable enough to freely express himself. The theme of the coming-of-age in the film is also explored in the scene where Junior tells La Niña that she is fat and that nobody would want to rape her. The utterances of Junior show that he is grown enough to stand up for himself even if it means insulting those who question his lifestyle choices. He is no longer the child that people can simply push around. The filmmaker might have also used the scene to create an element of contrast because while Junior expects society to let him express himself by going against established societal norms, he seemingly holds La Niña to the conventional standards of beauty. By fat-shaming her, he implies that she is ugly and that no man would desire her. He, therefore, confines La Niña to the norms that he desires to break away from. The scene shows that even the oppressed in society can be oppressors. Additionally, the contrast can stem from the notion that while Junior wants to embrace some of the feminine qualities, he is growing up to be just like any other man that judges a woman by her appearance. Junior uses La Niña’s physical appearance to argue that her safety is guaranteed because she is not beautiful enough to be raped. The boy has come of age by displaying characteristics that are commonly associated with men. Overall, the film can be described as a coming-of-age film because it involves a boy struggling with his identity as he grows up.

The Bad Hair

film also examines the issue of ethnicity and the struggles that those who are an ethnically ambiguous face. Junior comes from a mixed race, and much of his struggle has been driven by the need to find his identity. His hair, to begin with, is not like the hair of most Venezuelan children because of his ethnicity. The struggle to straighten his hair may, therefore, have been motivated by the need to feel socially included. The issue of ethnicity is also explored in the scene where Junior interacts with the photographer that is expected to take his school photo. The photographer tells him that he should dress like a soldier so that he could look like the child soldier in one of the photos. The camera focuses on the photo of the black child soldier and that of a Latino girl situated next to it. The mis-en-scene has been carefully crafted to show the difference between the black child soldier and the Latino girl. The expression on the child soldier’s face is that of worry. His childhood seems to have been taken away, and even though he is still a child, he has the expression of a grown man with many responsibilities. The Latino girl, on the other hand, has the smile and innocence of a child. The photographer may also have been racist by suggesting that Junior should dress as a child soldier. In a way, he might have been telling him that his place is on the battlefield somewhere in Africa and not among Latinos seeking education. The theme of racism in this scene is, however, subverted because the audience is likely to focus on the photographer’s idea of masculinity due to the dialogue that goes on in the scene. The theme of ethnicity also emerges in the scene where Junior is asking his grandmother whether she could straighten his hair. In this particular scene, Junior's grandmother has a photo of black men hanging on her wall. The photo symbolises that she understands her ethnic identity and has embraced it. She has also kept her hair natural, perhaps an indication that she understands who she is and is not willing to embrace a hairstyle that would in any way erode this identity. Junior’s grandmother also has a wall hanging that further symbolises her ethnic identity. The film, therefore, explores the issue of ethnic identity although it does not emerge as a key theme in the film. The question of ethnicity and racism is subverted because the dialogue has steered away from making the theme a key issue in the film.

In relation to ethnicity, the Bad Hair film also explores the theme of cultural belonging. Through Marta and Junior, the filmmaker examines the challenges that people that act against societal norms experience in trying to culturally belong. The main struggle for Marta concerning the mannerisms of Junior has been that he risks being an outcast in society. She strives to ensure that he is culturally included by forcing him to act as the society would expect and in accordance with Venezuelan culture. Marta desires Junior to look and act like a boy. Unfortunately, she has been consumed by this desire to the extent that she does not display any form of love and affection towards her son. Even though she does not mistreat him, the bond between mother and child is not evident in the film. The theme of cultural belonging is also explored in the scene where Junior dances to Samba music with his grandmother. By dancing to popular Latino music, Junior's grandmother shows that she has embraced the Latino culture in order to belong. In spite of her strong ties to her ethnic identity, she lives in a Latino country and understands that in order to belong, she has to embrace the Latino culture. The film, therefore, discusses the theme of cultural belonging.


The paper finds that the Bad Hair film discusses and subverts various themes. The film Bad Hair examines the challenges faced by a young boy perceived to be struggling with his sexuality in a society where individuals are expected to be attracted to the opposite sex. Apart from sexuality and gendered stereotypes, Bad Hair also examines the theme of coming-of-age and the challenges that young people face as they grow up and strive to express themselves. The film also examines the issue of ethnicity and the struggles that those who are an ethnically ambiguous face. The paper also determines that cultural belonging is a major theme discussed and extensively explored in the Bad Hair film.


Benshoff, H.M. and Griffin, S., 2011. America on film: Representing race, class, gender, and sexuality at the movies. John Wiley & Sons.

Lauzen, M.M., Dozier, D.M. and Horan, N., 2008. Constructing gender stereotypes through social roles in prime-time television. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 52(2), pp. 200-214.

Nelmes, J., 2012. Introduction to film studies. Routledge.

Rondón, M., 2013. Bad Hair. Sudaca Films.

September 25, 2023

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