Aww, hair. Glorious, luxurious, magnificent hair. Everyone wants a good head of hair, don't they? We're bombarded by images of what hair should be like, hairstyles to wear and dream about, an endless array of hair products and--for the desperate--how to make it look like you have hair to others, by wig or by surgery.
Comedian Chris Rock is curious about hair, specifically African-American hair culture, styles and techniques, and Good Hair is the affable documentary that lets Rock investigate his inquisitiveness.
The whole notion of hair is something I haven't thought of much since I first shaved my head in the mid-1990s. I am in the minority. People talk about "good" or "bad" hair days and display rabid devotion to a particular hairdresser. The hair care industry generates billions of dollars a year. African-American hair care rakes in $9 billion alone. What is connected to a person's self-esteem and their individuality more than hair?
To many people, it is the most visible and public expression of who they are. Hair has inspired musicals (uh, Hair), movies (Shampoo) and songs (a long, long list). Hair? Yeah, hair is important to a lot of people.
Rock, spurred on by his young daughter's questions about when she will have "good hair," begins to delve into just what is "good hair" among the African-American community, particularly to women. He talks to celebrities such as Nia Long, Eve and the very funny Ice-T. He goes to the outlandish Bronner Brothers hair show in Atlanta, hangs out in beauty parlors and barbershops and gets on a jet to India, trying to understand the myriad of social and cultural elements that make up a person's hairstyle.
To many African-American women, hair is not to be taken lightly. Maya Angelou calls hair "a woman's glory" and each woman's particular hairstyle is worn for a variety of reasons: for beauty, for fashion, for status or for political statement. The choices for African-American women? Relaxer, weave or natural. All of them signify something about you.
I knew very little about the science of relaxers or weaves, so the sections in the film dedicated to these two things were interesting and humorous. Relaxing the hair, straightening it via the application of the chemical sodium hydroxide, is a painful, devilish process.
The relaxer, also known as "the creamy crack" due to its addictive qualities favored by those who use it, is applied to hair until the chemical burn becomes too painful to endure. Remove the relaxer, and the hair is now straight. Leave it on too long and the scalp becomes scabbed or the hair is completely scorched off. This stuff is so corrosive it can eat through an aluminum can in an hour, yet people pay to put it on their hair. That's crazy dedication to have straight hair.
Watching Rock talk to people who love the weave was also fascinating and entertaining. Weaves used to be so secret women would enter back doors to avoid being seen pre or post-weave. They are expensive, starting out at about $1,000 and going up from there.
Weave hair comes from India and is sewn into a woman's hair in hours-long sessions. Exporting hair from India is a major industry, and Rock goes to India to talk to those legitimate and not-so-legitimate (including an interview with a black market Indian hair thief who proclaims that hair in India is more valuable than gold).
Rock is rather subdued as our guide into this world. The frenetic and manic elements of his stand-up personality are largely missing, which benefits the documentary. The parts that work best are the scenes with him talking to regular people in the beauty parlors and barbershops, the twin social pillars in African-American communities, about various subjects related to hair.
I would have loved to have seen more of these conversations. The frank talk, such as sex dos and don'ts with women with weaves to the financial obligations men have regarding their partners hairstyles, are some of the documentary's best moments. These scenes are the heart and soul of Good Hair, and it could have used more of these entertaining segments as Rock is at his best and most likable trading barbs with regular people.
Good Hair also would have been stronger if Rock would have dug deeper into issues of race concerning hair. That topic is brought up a few times, and you'd expect Rock to explore it further as that's one thing he is fearless with in his stand-up comedy. I also could have used less of the hair battle scenes at the Bronner Brothers show in Atlanta. While outrageous to watch, I would have preferred more real people talking about their hair and its social connections to race and African-American identity. I didn't care at all who might have won the $20,000 prize, but I would have loved lingering in the barbershop a little longer.
Good Hair is a fun, breezy, informative look at the way African-Americans view themselves through the hairstyles they wear. Rock, along with director Jeff Stilson, attempts to combine the serious with the humorous and while I'd preferred more of some things, and less of others, Good Hair is an interesting look into a topic not given much mainstream attention. I'm going to go shave my head now and not worry about any of this hair stuff.
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