Articles By Angela Jamison

good hair

I’m an African-American woman from the Midwest, and through the years my hair has seen many incarnations. Plaits. Braids. Cornrows. Bone straight. Freeze curls. Loose curls. Even extensions. Every hairstyle represents some facet of my personality. Hair is my form of self-expression.

In “Good Hair,” Chris Rock’s navigates the complex maze of personal and societal pressures that African-American women wade through to tame their “nappy” manes to achieve “good hair,” which implies beauty and acceptance.

Rock’s film is half-comedy, half-documentary. The main storyline sheds light on two techniques that African-American women use to straighten or enhance their tightly coiled locks—the chemical relaxer and hair extensions, or weaves—while the other story thread focuses on the annual Bronner Bros. Hair Show in Atlanta and the expo’s hairstylist showdown, the Hair Battle Royale. (The latter was the silliest and weakest part of the film.)

At moments, I couldn’t stop laughing. Interviews with actresses, rappers, dermatologists and entrepreneurs highlight the absurd lengths women (and some men) go through for beauty. Hip-hop artist T-Pain winces about “the burn of the perm” and the scabs that can form on the scalp when the relaxer seeps into the skin. Actress Raven-Symone wiggles her weave to show that her hair is not really hers (although she paid good money for it). A salon owner breaks down the layaway plan she designed to make the $1,000 weave process more affordable for her clients. And actress Nia Long, hip-hop mogul Andre Harrell, rapper/actor Ice-T and some fellas from an urban neighborhood barber shop broach the delicate subject of intimacy and the weave-wearin’ woman.

At other times in the film, I was educated. Rock travels to India to get the lowdown about the hair that is exported to the United States. There, he discovers that women have their heads shaved in religious "tonsure" ceremonies, after which the hair is washed, combed and bundled for transport in order to adorn the crowns of American celebrities and non-celebrities alike. And the Rev. Al Sharpton talks about the economics of hair products, a $9 billion-a-year industry of which only a handful of African-American businesses get a slice.

But during some moments of the documentary, I cringed. “Don’t tell all our secrets, Chris!” I wanted to shout.

As entertaining as “Good Hair” is, I longed for more depth.

Because Rock is a comedian first and a documentarian second, he merely scratched the surface on certain issues. For instance, when Rock interviewed a chemist about the corrosive chemicals in a relaxer (which disintegrated a can of soda within hours, by the way), he explained that black women relax their hair to “look white.” Yet Rock never delved into the historical account of why black women would pursue such a futile feat or whether that attitude persists 40 years after the civil rights movement. Neither the actresses nor the regular sistas at the salon cited “looking white” as the basis for their beauty regimen.

On the subject of workplace politics, Rock asked a group of female high school students for their opinion about the career prospects for women who wore their hair natural. A few dark-skinned girls with straight hair boldly asserted that a woman with natural hair would be perceived as less qualified than a sista with straight hair. The light-skinned girl sporting an Afro (perhaps she was biracial?) sat silent as her peers skewered anyone like her who would enter the workplace with a natural ’do. Again, Rock never challenged such a narrow mind-set, when a simple chat with a recruiter or a professional woman would’ve cleared up the matter. (I know that I’m not the only African-American woman who hasn’t suffered career setbacks because of her natural hairstyle.)

These gaps make me all the more curious about Regina Kimbell 2006 documentary "My Nappy Roots,” which is getting more press after she filed a lawsuit against Rock accusing him of copyright infringement and unfair competition and alleging that her film was the basis for "Good Hair." I’m sure that her film captures all the nuances of black hair that Rock glossed over or didn’t address.

Poet/author Maya Angelou says in her silken voice, “A woman’s hair is her glory.” “Good Hair” left me feeling proud of the naturally curly hair I was born with and the beauty of knowing that I can do whatever I please with it to express my ever-evolving identity.

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