Saturday, October 31, 2009

Good Hair

The ostensible jumping-off point for Chris Rock's documentary Good Hair was a question from one of Rock's young daughters about why she didn't have "good hair," which in the context of the film means a straight or European look as opposed to an Afro. While Rock, who serves as narrator and onscreen host, leavens Good Hair with plenty of jokes the film (Jeff Stilson directed, Rock cowrote and produced) is an unexpectedly pointed look at the economic and social effects of the quest for "Good Hair" on the African-American community. Rock has three central points: a. The $9 billion dollar a year African-American hair business is largely controlled by Asians and whites, b. The chemicals used on women and young girls (Rock shows a 6- year old getting a perm) in "relaxer" and other products are corrosive and dangerous, and c. (and the weakest point) The money spent on "weaves" by women who want their hair to look fuller drives a wedge between men and women in the African-American community. Interviews with celebs like Eve and Ice-T are interwoven with documentary segments both funny (men in a barbershop detail the obstacles a weave presents to good sex) and Michael Moore-style stagey (Rock attempts to sell black hair on the streets of LA to dealers who only want to sell weaves made from Indian hair). A side trip to India produces disturbing footage of temple goers (babies included) having their heads shaved in a religious ceremony. Untold millions are made when that hair is sold to the States, but the question of who exactly pockets the money is never answered. If Rock lets a few interesting points lapse, he still succeeds in shining a light on a portion of African-American culture that a fiction film couldn't without some kind of heavy-handed metaphor. Good Hair extends the length and breadth of Rock's social commentary to impressive new heights.

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