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Chris Rock talks to a young African-American girl having her hair straightened.

3 out of 4 stars


Good Hair

  • Directed by Jeff Stilson
  • Written by Jeff Stilson, Chris Rock, Lance Crouther and Chuck Sklar
  • Narrated by Chris Rock
  • Featuring Chris Rock, Maya Angelou, Ice-T, Nia Long, Salt-n-Pepa and Rev. Al Sharpton
  • Classification: PG

Among other things, Good Hair is the story of how foragers collect shorn hair at Hindu religious ceremonies in India, turning discarded locks into lustrous weaves that sell for up to $5,000 (U.S.) at Korean-owned beauty stores in black American neighbourhoods.

Good Hair is also about how African-Americans spend $9-billion annually chemically treating and straightening their hair, buying 80 per cent of America's hair products. It's such a fascinating, complex tale that you hope one day some probing filmmaker will make a conclusive documentary on the subject.

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Until then, Chris Rock's amiably cluttered infotainment will have to do. Like Bill Maher in Religulous, or Michael Moore in all his films, comedian Rock is front and centre here, yakking away with black hair-product users, stylists and manufacturers. He chats with a preschooler getting her hair doused in chemicals that, we later see, can dissolve a Coke can in four hours flat. He drops in on a series of black, straight-haired actresses we've never heard of (but that's another documentary). Other interview subjects include Salt-n-Pepa, poet Maya Angelou and, sporting his familiar pewter ski-jump do, Rev. Al Sharpton.

Rock also goes on field trips, visiting an Atlanta trade fair where hair stylists engage in a preposterously theatrical clip off. (One cuts hair hanging upside down from a trapeze, then later, holding her breath, in an aquarium.) There is the trip to India and a tour of a U.S. hair chemical plant, where, wearing a lab coat and hairnet, the comedian stirs a vat holding 7,000 pounds of "relaxant," and cracks, "This will last Prince about a month."

It's a good joke. Rock is cheerful, good company throughout - unlike, say, the prickly-as-a-porcupine Moore. And, to his credit, he remains diligently on topic, being more interested in what's going on inside (as opposed to on top of) the heads of his subjects.

He wants to know why they're doing it. Why they're indulging in mild torture and spending hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars a month to look, there is no other word for it - whiter.

The answer, inevitably, is because they feel they have to.

Rock asks the right question, but he's an entertainer, a feel-good guy who never follows up with the impolite query - how come? The film never asks the cultural implications of the retreat from the I'm Black and I'm Proud movement toward natural hair in the sixties. Never wonders why black men, except, curiously, for NFL defensive backs, have ignored the move toward long and elaborate hair.

The film succeeds as a vehicle for Rock's personality. He hasn't been this much fun on screen since his mid- to late-nineties HBO specials - Bring the Pain and Bigger & Blacker .

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But even as a personal investigation into the evolution of black hair, the film steers clear of awkward questions.

"Just yesterday, my daughter came into the house and said, 'Daddy, how come I don't have good hair.' I wonder how she came up with that idea?" Rock asks early on. We then see his natural-haired little girl, followed by a photo collage of straight-haired black icons, including Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama, with the voiceover message: In the black community, "the lighter, the brighter, the better."

In other words, it's society's fault. That's more than a bit disingenuous when you consider that the girl's mother, Rock's wife, the absent Malaak Compton-Rock, has straightened hair.

Good Hair is good fun, but like most hair pieces, it begins to look suspicious if you examine it for any length of time.

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