It’s why black women sit under those big, hot machines for hours and why black girls sometimes sit by the bedside worshipping white Barbie dolls: good hair. Chris Rock channels his inner Ken Burns, giving celebrities, hair stylists and clients, and public figures the third degree about their hair practices, however paganistic they may seem. Of course, it’s Chris Rock, the master of layering comedy with a political silver lining, so the film Good Hair asks the essential question: all that money to chemically change your hair?
Produced by Nelson George (“American Gangster”, CB4) and narrated by the Rock himself, Good Hair follows hair salons in America’s metropoles in various stages of hair consumption. The film is centered around the annual Bronner Bros hair competition, capturing the twirls and whirls, under water and upside down snipping of Atlanta’s hair battle royale. Yet as celebrated as the event is, there’s something controversial about Black women’s relationship with the hair industry and Chris Rock damn well gets to bottom of it.
Good Hair features a high profile panels of interviewees of color who give their two cents on this widely discussed issue of hair grooming practices in the American-American community. Nia Long, Lauren London, and Melyssa Ford represent the relaxed and straightened mainstream. Tracie Thoms, the natural alternative. Ice-T and Andre Harrell the male point of view, and Al Sharpton and Maya Angelou provide intellectual interpretations of the three. Together with sound bites from a few other notable names, no hair strand is left untwisted.
Rock first tackles relaxers, of which millions of ounces are produced containing the scalp mutilating ingredient sodium hydroxide. With help of a “chemistry expert”, Rock shows how the same chemicals, which Black women and girls as young as three years old use in their hair, can burn through a soda can in only hours. Rock also shows how of these endless brands of Black hair products, only a small percent of them are Black owned or as Al Sharpton thought provokingly puts it, “Black women wear their economic exploitation on their head”.
Rock’s hilarious social commentary also brings him to India where he searches for the origin of packaged hair. He discovers that the same hair that Black women pay thousands of dollars for in hair salons across the country, pious young girls at Buddhist temples sacrifice for free. This seemingly ludicrous see-saw of supply and demand inspires Chris Rocks to bundle a large bag of “Black hair” and try to sell it to beauty supply stores in Los Angeles. Of course, his little experiment yields no buyers, but does yield racist statements from an Asian shop owner who adamantly tries to convince him that Black women don’t want hair that looks “too Africa”.
Nia Long and Melyssa Ford break down the culture of weaves and from their testimony it is clear how the dealing of Indian hair has become big business. Sharon Jones, who also sat for an interview, humorously noted that in every black city, one can catch a glimpse of unwanted “tumbleweave” blowing through the streets during the day.
Good Hair thrives off of clever quips from Chris Rock and funny anecdotes from men and women who visit barbershops and hair salons across the country. When asked that last time he touched a Black woman’s hair, one man in an Harlem barbershop replied, “1986. Before the market crashed...”
At the end of the day, Good Hair steers away from self-righteousness by not casting judgment on the women who do choose to chemically alter their hair. Throughout the movie, Chris Rock takes a moment or two to consider how his findings on Black hair will influence his daughters, and he comes up with the a propos solution to tell them what goes on top of their heads is not nearly as important as what goes in their heads. Ice-T echoes similar sentiments about the triviality of the straighten vs. natural debate when he says that Black women should have what they want because if they don’t, “they could bring a whole lot of fucking pain”. Good Hair is a funny conversation starter.
It premiered at the Tribeca theatre in NYC, thanks to sponsors, Dr. Miracles and Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network (WEEN), to very warm reception and if taken to heart, the film might even change some lifestyles.