Chris Rock’s new documentary Good Hair began when one of his daughters came to him to ask, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” The question inspired Rock’s journey through the world of black hair, from barbershops to celebrity interviews to the largest black hair show in Atlanta.
Combining the cultural and historical investigation of a Michael Moore exposé with bizarre characters who could be fresh out of a Christopher Guest mocumentary, Good Hair manages to both educate and entertain.
One of the overarching themes of the film is the question of what defines “good hair”. Celebrities like Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Raven Symoné, Dr. Maya Angelou, Salt n Pepa, Eve and Reverend Al Sharpton all discuss the cultural implications of the black community classifying straight hair as good hair. Each discusses his/her own personal struggle with achieving the desired look. Sharpton is especially amusing when describing the first time he used relaxer at the request of James Brown.
Rock gives an in-depth look at the topic of relaxer, from talking with celebrities and real people who use it to visiting factories that produce it. He even meets with a scientist who shows him the potentially dangerous aspects of this “creamy crack” that so many people regularly put on their hair. In one shocking experiment, the chemicals used in relaxer are shown to disintegrate and aluminum soda can. Despite the potential danger from the strong chemicals, millions continute to use relaxers and parents even apply the concoction to the still-forming follicles of children as young as three.
The black hair industry generates billions of dollars and, even more than relaxer, a large chuck of that money goes to weaves, which can cost as much as $5,000. Once considered a “beauty secret” hair weaves are now out in the open and on the heads of millions of women around the world. Stars like Long and Symoné proudly talk about the quality of their extensions or the arduous process of getting a weave done. Rock also talks to men at a barbershop who joke about not being able to touch their girlfriends’ heads because they don’t want to mess up an expensive weave.
Interviews with weave-wearers prove to be humorous and amusing, but the segment that takes place in India is absolutely fascinating. The vast majority of human hair used in these weaves and extensions comes from India and hair is actually one of the country’s top exports. Rock interviews women who give up their hair in a religious ceremony as well as men who then take the hair and sell it to American beauty suppliers. It’s amazing to think about how many women have no idea of the long journey their weave endured before it got to their head.
With all the discussion about hair as culture, you might think the theme could get a little heavy but, because it’s produced by the same team that brought us The Chris Rock Show, the doc manages to keep up a high level of humor as it drops some knowledge.
The funniest moments come from the three contestants in the Bronner Bros. Hair Show in Atlanta. In scenes that seem like something out of Best in Show, we see competitors Tanya Crumel and Kevin Kirk, Jason Griggers, Freddie J and Derek J conceptualize and rehearse their performances for the Hair Battle Royale. Crumel and Kirk feel confident that they have Jesus on their side while Freddie struggles to explain her elaborate theme and Derek seems to only think about the custom-made leather heeled boots he’ll be wearing. Griggers, the sole white contestant and self-proclaimed “Rosa Parks of black hair” has a surprisingly laidback attitude that makes him one of the most interesting contestants.
I must say, the doc connected with me on a major level because, growing up as a biracial child in a predominantly white town, I always thought I had the ugliest hair on the planet. Seeing this film made me realize that there are millions of women (and some men) who feel the exact same way and that there are gigantic industries built off this follicle frustration. Best about Good Hair is that it never gets overly preachy or ceases to keep you laughing. Rock’s narration is spectacular and he brings a unique quality to interviews that not only puts the subjects at ease but also opens the door for comedy. I absolutely loved Good Hair and would recommend that everyone, black, white or otherwise, check it out.