Comedian Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair,” just out on DVD, begins with stills of his two young daughters. “Those are my daughters, Lola and Zara,” Rock narrates, “The most beautiful girls in the world. And even though I tell them that they’re beautiful every single day, sometimes it’s just not good enough. Just yesterday, Lola came into the house crying and said ‘Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?’ I wonder how she came with that that idea?”
So begins Rock’s quest to discover why so many black women don’t like their hair and what they go through– money, time, refusing swimming and sex– to ensure that it stays “beautiful.”
Six year old getting relaxer
Actress Nia Long tells Rock: “There’s always a sort of pressure within the black community, like, oh, if you have good hair, you’re prettier or better than the brown skinned girl that wears the afro or the dreads or the natural hair style…The lighter, the brighter, the better.”
Rock travels from Greensboro, North Carolina, the capital of the 100 million dollar hair business (and also, the former capital of the Confederacy) to India where hair is the country’s biggest export, and finally to the pricey salons of LA. He interviews black women, their boyfriends and husbands, and even the well coiffed Al Sharpton trying to figure out the root of the hair obsession.
Comedian Paul Mooney explains it most concisely: “If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If you hair is nappy, they’re not happy.”
The chemical many African-Americans use on their hair is, in fact, called “relaxer.” The “creamy crack” or “napidote” is the dangerous chemical sodium-hydroxide. “Get some in your eyes, it’ll lead to blindness,” explains a worker at Greensboro’s massive relaxer factory. “If you inhale the chemicals, its will have an adverse affect on your body.” Rock visits a scientist who dips aluminum cans in sodium chloride, showing them in various stages of charred decay.
The movie has sad scenes like when Rock interviews a group of female, African-American college students and young professionals, most who agree they wouldn’t go on a job interview, nor would they even hire someone, who was sporting the kind of hair that looks too natural, even a “cute” short afro that one girl in this group wears.
Also poignant but funny is when both genders adamantly agree on the rules of “weave sex:” never touch a black woman’s hair. Taking a shower together is more intimate than practically any other act; swimming ranks a close second if it involves getting in past the chin.
Actress Nia Long
All cultures include people who do crazy stuff to their hair and bodies, and Rock leaves pretty much everyone except for African-Americans out of his film. Reality star Kate Gosselin’s much mocked do and subsequent makeover could be its own documentary. Not only that, poker straight haired white girls have always pined for curls and vice versa. But teen dreamers and reality stars generally don’t experience anything as profound as being black and living in a culture that celebrates and rewards whiteness every day, and that unique experience is exactly what Rock set out to make a movie about.
“Good Hair” ends as it begins, with images of Lola and Zara, now shown at a playground, Rock musing: “So what do I tell my daughters? I tell them that the stuff on top of their heads is nowhere near as important as the stuff inside of their heads.”
Congrats to Chris Rock for listening to his small daughters, taking their words seriously enough to make a film that communicates how tyrannical and insidious our ideals about “beauty” can be. “Good Hair” gets a triple ***GGG*** girlpower rating (though it’s not a movie for kids, too much weave sex.)