Good Hair

Good Hair is a rambling, genial, free flowing conversation about the phenomenon of African-American hair.  Chris Rock, the producer and narrator explains early on in the film that his interest in the topic was piqued when his oldest daughter complained that her natural hair was “bad hair”.  Thus begins his exploration of the topic, and the film covers a very wide – possibly too wide – range of topics in the field.  Some of these topics include simple motifs of beauty presented to black women – a visit to a place that sells extension hair is particularly revealing – weaves, relaxer and the black hairdressing industry.

How the black hairdressing industry is covered in this movie more or less describes the method of the film overall.  Rock wants to make a point about how seriously black women take their hair, so he is at a black beauty salon, on camera, just talking to the women in much the typical genial Chris Rock persona that fans of his (or people who watch TV) are probably well familiar with.  The discussion about hairdressing and the career path it is supposed to take leads to the Bronner Brothers International Hair Show, which bears more than a passing resemblance to the people in Best in Show.  Indeed a very peculiar feature could be made about Derek J, a prime contender for the crown.

However, this is not the only topic.  Rock then explores the topic of hair relaxer and visits a plant where it is produced.  Relaxer traditionally has been created using Sodium Hydroxide, and we get amusing takes of women and men, and Al Sharpton, describing the burn.  However, there are alternate products on the market, and less damaging ingredients, but the movie does not seem to explore them.  Indeed if there is a criticism to be levied at the film it is that it veers away from poignant points.  While there might not be much poignancy to be had from a performance “haircutting” competition – the amount of chemicals used to look “beautiful” does have some poignancy and is a provocative topic.  Rock indeed is curious and gets some provocative insight, but when it looks like a real thesis could be developed, he veers away.  This is also true in a later segment where he discusses the value chain for weaves, and explores who is exactly actually financially benefiting from the zeal about black women’s hair.

While this tendency will probably make Good Hair more palatable and entertaining for a general audience, it holds it back from having the sort of impact as an essay that it could have.  On the other hand, perhaps that is just as well.  With the film that Rock, and conspirators from his old HBO show (Jeff Stilson, who directed, Lance Crouther co-wrote) put together, the aim was clearly more genial and audience friendly.  Chris Rock fans (like me) will go expecting Chris Rock to do Chris Rock things.  To that end, it is not a disappointment.  Rock is a funny, curious, host and his persona carries much of the exposition through.  The movie is a very entertaining time, but Rock shows flashes of it being a little deeper than that.  The topic and how it weaves into socio-economic issues in the African-American community are interesting, and here Rock shows that a fascinating movie could be made about those issues – even if this one is content to simply be a conversation starter.

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