"Good Hair" takes a good look at beauty and culture
January 21, 2009
Two years ago, when comedian Chris Rock’s five-year old daughter asked him why she didn’t have "good hair," it was a disturbing comment that got Rock thinking about African American women and their relationship with their hair.
That kicked off a journey for Rock to find out more about African American hair and how it ties in with African American culture.
The result? The documentary "Good Hair."
With HBO in tow, "Good Hair" takes Rock around the U.S. and beyond to find out more about African American hair and the billion-dollar business behind it.
The premise comes from a long history of black and biracial women feeling the pressure to fit with a Caucasian standard of straight hair. Rock finds out all about what comes with the need for silky straight locks.
"There’s always this sort of pressure in the black community, if you have good hair, you’re prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl who wears the afro or dreads or the natural style," said actor Nia Long in the film.
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Rock’s documentary is a study in the hair and now a look at African American women and their hair in the world today. He interviews with African American models and actors, some with "good hair" other with natural locks.
Perhaps most startling is the lengths to which the women go in the name of "beautiful hair." He enlightens viewers with a look at relaxers used to straighten African American hair, a damaging chemical mix that scientists show can be very detrimental to all it touches. Then it’s on to the weave blending in human hair into the existing head of another person. Weaves can cost upwards of $1,000 and everyday women are paying for them. That takes Rock to India, where the hair comes from. Rock witnesses the Indian ritual of hair sacrifice and the shops where the hair is sewn together and then shipped to the States.
He looks at the people behind the black hair business and finds it most Asians and Caucasians primarily making money from the African American population.
From men he learns how hair can affect a relationship. He even explores how black women’s hair can affect intimacy.
"Chris is a guy that going to ask you stuff that’s uncomfortable," said actor Trace Thoms.
White curiosity about black hair is also addressed by Rock’s frank film. Thoms said that she thinks many non- African American audiences will get a greater understanding of the black woman’s experience.
"The mystery of our hair is perpetuated by our unwillingness to talk about it," she said. "We need to embrace who we are if we want them to embrace who we are."
Perhaps most startling is an interview with high school girls who single out their natural-haired friend and say that her look isn’t appropriate for the workplace.
The film centers on the Bronner Brothers Hair Show and Battle, an Atlanta-based competition where the country’s top black hairstylists go head to head in a show of artistry and creativity to win the best hairdresser belt.
But it’s more than the business or the competition; it’s a hard look at women and their constructs of beauty, how that affects their relationships with themselves, their everyday lives and interaction with others. With humor and poignancy, Rock’s observes culture and takes a long look at the past, present and the future for his daughters.
Rock, known for his raucous stand-up shows, takes a more narrative role, combining humor with a genuine want to uncover the constructs behind cultural norms. The result is laid-back and thoroughly enjoyable while still being educational.
"If I had made this movie before I had kids, it would have been all jokes," Rock said.
This entertaining yet stark look at race should give African American audiences something they can relate to and think about while simultaneously opening up the eyes of other races, especially women, who will find common ground in the price of beauty.
"The struggle is understated," said executive producer Nelson George.
Screening of the film will continue through the weekend. For more information, visit http://www.sundance.org/festival.
"Hair dictates who you are," Long said. "I love the film. It goes against the stereotype while engaging it."