It all started with his daughter asking why she didn’t have “good hair.” “I wonder where she got that from?” comedian Chris Rock states in his trademark high-pitched voice. And so, Rock leads us on a hair journey, focusing on the significance and abundance of what hairstyle has come to mean within the female population of the black community.
Being a member of this community, I could understand most of what the film was saying, but perhaps it would be an eye opening experience to the general public — a.k.a. white people. The pacing was fast but pretty random. Rock’s original goal of analyzing “good hair” got lost among various plots; the extremes that celebrities go to for looks, why black relationships are strained (really Chris?), the fun of hair shows, and how black women are “high maintenance.” While it felt like there was entirely too much going on, it was entertaining and I never found myself drifting focus.
Rock selected the right celebrities to give amusing commentary. Who knew that Raven Symone of the “Cosby Show” and Disney Channel fame was such a weave fanatic, startling not only Rock with her comments. Ice-T, Rev. Al Sharpton, and a host of others also provide entertaining commentary.
Rock begins by defining good hair in the African American community. For simplicity’s sake, he describes it as straight hair, or even simpler, “white people hair.” This may be up for debate beyond the scope of the film, but this is Rock’s documentary. The guests he features and his own perspective address this specific concern in adventurous detail.
This leads us to the process of how African Americans with naturally kinky hair (the majority do) transform it into long “white people hair.” The answer: sodium hydroxide, or relaxers. Various celebrities, along with beauty and barbershop customers, describe the process of getting their first relaxer in the film. The common conclusion is that it feels like your whole scalp is on fire. Rock brings in a chemist for a live demonstration to show the powerful and dangerous chemical effects of sodium hydroxide.
Seeing children as young as three with relaxers in their hair, answering Rock’s questions to the glee of their mother’s is especially unsettling. Common sense kicks in: why would black women do this if it’s so torturous? Here is where Rock had the chance to stay on task and explore why the black community does this.
But he doesn’t. He doesn’t delve into the history of oppression of African Americans, from slavery to the Jim Crow era, and what would lead some into imposing self-hate standards. From the field Negro, to house slave treatment, to the paper bag test and the cotton club; there is so much history leading into is the psychology of black values. In a culture that values eurocentric-features, there is need to make us see why we choose to imitate.
Rock doesn’t help the cause of untangling a painful past. Has Rock himself fallen under the long, wind-blowing hair beauty standard? Does he find it more appealing than those who have natural kinky hair? The women of the film obviously have, answering proudly that it’s their real hair. Rock doesn’t counteract the relaxed hair take with those who wear their hair natural. He doesn’t ruminate on the various natural hairstyles or comment on how beautiful they are. In fact, he features only one black woman who wears her hair naturally, actress Tracie Thoms, to give perspective.
Rock does find time, however, to discuss the weave, or human hair extensions. In one segment, Ice-T recalls the childhood memory of wondering how women’s hair would grow a foot over night. We are flown to India, where the weave hair often comes from. In a religious ceremony, men, women, and children’s heads are shaved off in exchange for the thanks and further blessings form the gods. The hair is unknowingly taken from these ceremonies and then processed and sent back to America for consumption — after one crucial part, checking for bugs. But Rock only grazes the surface of the topic, resorting to his distinct brand of humor as he compares the creepy hair company owner to the drug lord Scarface, because both measure in kilos.
Back in the states, Chris Rock conducts a Michael Moore-esque experiment as he tries to sell black hair to the Korean owned black hair shops in Crenshaw, California. In a sadly ironic moment, a female black worker in the shop with a disgusted tone explains that no one wants nappy hair. An equally ironic fact: the majority of black hair shops are Korean owned... another documentary entirely.
Throughout the film were randomly interjected facets of a hair show in Atlanta — a culture completely of its own. The hair show is held at an annual hair convention where hair products all over the country are available for consumers — a.k.a. a big money making machine. This is by far the most entertaining part of the film, but also would have been done better justice in a separate documentary. Other than adding to the film’s high-speed pace, these random interjections caused the film to lack focus.
The problem with Rock’s documentary is how it generalizes a whole group of people as one entity, rather than exploring the distinct qualities within it. I found that I couldn’t relate to any of the women buying weaves, as they were made fun of instead of humanized.
Will this entertain people? Yes, if anything for the same reasons as the success of Rock’s stand-up act. Will it change people? I highly doubt it. There are controversial spots; which are Chris Rock’s specialty. But the movie lacks the effort to investigate a serious issue with self-image. What’s the point of spending 10 dollars to laugh and not learn?