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Good Hair (Review)

Chris Rock's documentary looks at black America’s hair fixation

By tt stern-enzi · October 21st, 2009 · Movies
As a black man who has had a baby Afro, a Jehri curl, shaved his head, worn dreds and now sports what I like to call a budding Cornel West blowout ’fro, I know a thing or two about the concerns over black hairstyles from the male perspective. I’ve been forced to cut my offending locks to appease mainstream (i.e. white) sensibilities because of the fear of black hair, but I also currently enjoy the freedom to just let my hair be as natural as it wants to be. Like India.Irie said, “I am not my hair.”

But I know that’s not true because we, black folks, are defined as much by our hair as by our skin tones. Light skin is good, since it is borne from a mixing with white to dilute the darkness (and our cultural fear of said darkness). Good hair is straighter, wavy and fine in texture, silky smooth, unlike the tight kinks, the buckshot upside your nappy head, and black folks use this language to describe and define our hair, just as we make the same kinds of comments about our skin. It is part and parcel of living in this culture and having carried this baggage around for hundreds of years.

It is also striking fear into the hearts of a new generation of black parents like Chris Rock, who having been approached by one of his young daughters and asked why she didn’t have “good hair” embarked on a journey to the root of our fascination with placing such value on the stuff coming out of our heads.

Rock realizes that it’s much harder out there for black women (and the girls who will become women) to reconcile the value and its impact on their self-images. But Rock’s Good Hair is the work of a daring comedian with feet in both the mainstream and the culture of black folks and a willingness to poke good-natured fun at each side.

The allure of bouncy locks goes back to the 1970s heyday of Farrah Fawcett, and there’s no better retrospective look at her impact on society than in the brief clips of her patented perma perm springing lightly as flips and nods to Charlie and the other Angels.

But Rock spends more time on the pain and process black folks, particularly black women, endure in order to achieve this heavenly bob. Whether it be scalp burnings or mortgage-busting weaves, black women — from the around the way girls and everyday sisters and mothers to movie stars like Nia Long and Tracey Thoms — discuss the pros and cons of fighting the good hair fight. They prove their resilience in the face of societal demands, paying even the highest price — a loss of fun and intimacy. Swimming and weave sex are just necessary sacrifices that both women and their partners must soldier past.

A trip to the motherland of good hair — India — offers one of many far more interesting economic digressions on the road to the perfect locks. With such a premium on dark straight tresses, it is easy to forget that hair is, and always has been, big business, another black niche that has been ceded to others ready and willing to exploit. There are few black-owned hair product producers (in a multibillion dollar industry that caters exclusively to blacks) and no black hair exporters at all.

I remember back in the day when my grandmother would do hair on the weekends. I spent hours watching her heat up the hot curling irons and create high art out of tight black locks. I understood the dollars and cents of what was going on, but it was much later before the social and cultural elements made sense. And, to be honest, I’m not sure it does even after all these years and watching this naptastic documentary.

There is still art and commerce in the processing of our hair. Rock wants us to see the good and the bad for what it is. Grade: B

 
 
 
 

 

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