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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.

0 Comments
I don't think a film like this should have been done by a Black man. I also don't think that since the film wasn't balanced and Rock excluded naturals (except for one) I don't think it should have been released to theaters. I'm embarrassed for Black women after seeing this film because one of my friends told me that Whites were in the theater when she saw it. Aside from the relaxers, this film leads non-Blacks to believe that ALL black women wear weaves unless their hair is short. I've felt compelled to defend Solange Knowles - a natural and Tempest Bledsoe, another natural on a blog because Whites making comments about their hair assumed it was a wig or a weave! I pointed out that is was not and that all Black women don't have hair that is three inches long. Sad.
This comment is at a late date, but I have to say that 1. Chris Rock is not only a comedian, he is a man that wears really short hair. He couldn't have been expected to really know anything about this subject and may have thought that he did do an in-depth treatment. It is unlikely that many he works with have natural hair and they probably thought it was in-depth, too. And 2 I had my hair relaxed from the time I was little and didn't do anything different till after I was thirty and it had nothing, I repeat, nothing to do with 'looking white.' If your Mama knew how to take care of natural hair fine, but don't be a judgmental harpy about the rest of us. I hate the relaxer and think it is poison and evil, but as a medium skinned black women with African, Choctaw and European ancestors I will never look white. So let's never point political and racial fingers at innocent (tho' perhaps uninformed) coinhabitants of this planet. Thank you.
I'm glad that he didn't try to cover up the truth. Every time I go to the mall I think ' what are women of African decent doing?' Everone know that our hair was not born straight as a pin. It's time to face the truth and accept what's ours.
Watched it again with a friend because someone here had said that Chris Rock had spoken of his daughter's future hair choice in concrete terms in the film (ie: "when"). I listened carefully the second time around but did not find that reference. In fact, he consistently said "if" not "when". However, while watching it for the second time I revised my opinion. While Rock and his film are still entertaining, I found his take on the discussion disturbing. He treated the category "Black Women" as though it was biological instead of political. This is deeply problematic. Especially in light of his assertion in India to the long-haired daughter of the hair exporter when he said: 'If you see a Black woman run the other way'. As were the explicit class dynamics also at play which were for the most part ignored. I am not shocked because Rock is an entertainer, not a scholar. However, with regard to his simplistic analysis he might have been able to address some of the generalizations if he had had discussions with scholars in the film to provide more nuanced perspectives.
I enjoyed the movie. I found it entertaining - the Bronner Brothers annual event - and educational because I really had no idea that so many Black American women wore weaves or that it cost so much. I liked that Rock showed variety in hair styles as well as the consequences to some methods. I liked that viewers got to see the diversity of opinions that accompanied the hair choices - from both women and men. I have to say that Ice T really impressed me (male opinion) as did Tracie Thoms (female opinion). These two actors said essentially the same thing: if you're going to wear your hair as it grows out of your scalp, own it and be ready to defend it. I found the movie uplifting and affirming.
For men, this was probably a shocker, but for women it was nothing new. The first part was interesting about the harsh chemicals, but after that it really was no depth. I was disappointed that there was NOT more women with natural hair in the film. It sort of made those actress that did speak up look "shallow". Umm... the film was decent, but it was missing something?...?
I haven't seen the movie, but what I got from the interviews he has done -- including the one on Oprah, is that he doesn't particularly care for the hair that is dominant among African-American women. I say that because he made a comment about why he went to India along the lines of he wanted to see where the hair his daughters would eventually wear came from when he appeared on Oprah. I'm assuming that this movie will be funny and enlightening (I've never understood the weave and constant changes of hairstyles in AA culture.) However, I do think he does make caricatures of some of the ordinary women.
arkanfine: There are some extremely gullible white people (including professional reviewers) who think that black women don't let their s.o.s touch their hair. Not sure that Chris Rock did black women too much of a favor.
tgzcurl: I think that the "classic" "upper class" white european image features straight hair. That is why people with curly hair are derided. And it may also incorporate a prejudice against people of African heritage. I've known white people who've been made fun of for having a "black" butt.
I am sorry that I have to disagree with most comments in this forum. I really enjoyed good hair. I felt that it opened a door to explaining something to the black men in our lives that could not have been explained if it were a straight up documentary. The only reason my husband attended is because it WAS Chris Rock and he left learning something that he would have never learned otherwise. We have a 4 year old daughter and I think it is important that he know the strain that is put on most black woment to wear straight hair to satisfy our cultures eurocentric belief that straight is pretty. Now he pays more attention to beautiful natural sisters, verbalizing it in front of our daughter. Making sure that she knows hoe beautiful her coils are the way they grow out of her head. When I went to see the movie, I was already transitioning, but Chris gave me a little push in realizing how much I had allowed society to dehumanize me and how I had taught myself to hate my hair. As far as my white friend go, they learned a lot that they did know.Most importantly, they learned to open thier eyes and try to see a culture of people the way they are without believing they have to be blended to be beautiful. Don't fool yourself for one second thinking that they didn't already believe that we take measures to look like them. They know your hair isnt that straight and they know it wasn't that long on Monday.
Hm. Actually, I am white (Mediterranean) and live in a country where my ethnicity is majoritary (Southern Europe). Yet, family members have pointed the fact that I wear my hair with its natural texture (mixed 2b/3a/3b with thick hair) as a reason why, in their opinion, I am seen as "less professional" on job interviews. They believe that if I wore my hair straightened I would be perceived as tidier and more professional. The prejudice against waves and curls isn't just an African/Black thing. Actually, the hard time I have finding curl-appropriate hair care here, while it's easy to find hair salons and hair products geared to straightening wavy/curly hair, while probably 70% of people around here have wavy/curly/very curly hair shows how far we are from accepting our curls. And in our case, it certainly is not to look more white or more European, as we are white and European.
I agree with the author about the lack of depth. Honestly it may have been to much to cover in one film, but there are so many sides to this story that should be dissected. I never thought Chris Rock should be the one to do a serious documentary on the subject. He delivered what I expected and I thought it was very funny, especially the Bronner Brothers Hair Show Spectacular. It was a hot mess and wholly entertaining. The sad part of the film WAS when the young sister with the natural hair was being convinced that she would have a hard time getting a job. I wanted to yell though that screen yes you can! But it is still popular opinion that you must press to impress. As far as Black women wanting to be white... I agree with the commenter above, kurlikinkiklassic, that it's obvious if Black women and other women with "Kinky" hair feel they must straighten their hair to look good there is a dissatisfaction with themselves the way the naturally are. There IS no other reason. WIth all the info on this site and others there is no way it is harder to maintain 4B and lesser hair types than it is to maintain a relaxer or weave. People who say that are still in denial. I ahve the kinkiest hair there is and I don't have any trouble with it at all. I wash it, comb and moisturize while wet and then do very chunky twist outs. The whole process takes two hours and I do this twice weekly. The rest of the time I keep it wrapped at night and wear it out during the day letting my natural texture shine. No combing just fluffing. Fluff in go daily just two minutes. How is that hard? The reason is that people find it hard to look at their own texture in the mirror each day. WHY is that? Well back to the original point, we have been conditioned to believe that straight silky long hair is what is beautiful. Who predominantly has that type of hair? European and Asian People. Not to say that some African people do not have that, but mostly that is not the case, So why not call it what it is. Black women don't like who they are naturally when it comes to hair.
I saw Chris Rock on Oprah and the only informative part was when he traveled to India to show their customs on hair. I never knew that about Indian culture. Other than that he talked about what we already know sisters, right? I admit, I did want to know whose celebrity hair was real and whose wasn't. We found out that Oprah's hair is really beautifully long and that she sometimes wear weaves. I never knew that about her. I thought all her hair styles were weaves. Her real hair is long and flowing and beautiful, Rock it Oprah!!! He could have expounded a little more on how to care for our natural locks, so we can grow out our hair as long as Oprah's, because you guys know it is possible don't you? For those of you who love long hair, and you thnk it is impossible to have, and want to know how to grow out your own natural hair long and flowing and without breakage, please visit Hydratherma Naturals.com. Saleemah Cartwright is one of the best hair care advocates in the world. That is who Chris Rock should have taken on the journey with him. But I guess he doesn't know what we really need to know about care and maintenance of our natural locks or he would have brought it to our attention. What I did see was Chris Rock exposing something that is a matter of personal preference, and should have been none of his business. It really was not enough depth in what I saw on Oprah, to spark my interest to go see the movie. I think he just needed something to do!!
I never saw the movie because I thought it would have been a waste of money. I would not even rent it. I've worn braids, cornrows, jericurls, weaves as well as a relaxer. I've tried the natural look, because of the damage that a relaxer made on my scalp. Wearing my hair natural was actually more work to deal with than my relaxed. Though I would rather have no chemical on my scalp anymore because my natural hair was much more healthy. As far as the comment about having a relaxer or weave to become like a caucasion individual, I think that was bizaare. I love my roots and wearing my hair straight is a personal preverence is based on the managebility.
I agree. Why would he go out and tell all of our beauty secrets?! People don't need to know everything we do to make ourselves beautiful! That said, I've never worn a weave and found it somewhat educational, but he didn't teach me anything I couldn't have asked an expert about when I visit the salon for a trim. Plus, I felt he could have done a better job of hammering home the point that many of us have always embraced our lovely naturally curly, kinky locs. And, more of us are wearing our hair natural these days. Not worth paying for or seeing in my opinion and I like Chris Rock.
The author said it best: Chris Rock is a comedian first and documentarian second and the movie really does reflect that. While the movie could have been better I WAS educated and I count this as one of the steps (of many) in the progress of Mass enlightenment by the media. One of the women interviewed in the movie said something I found so profound; that one would be considered revolutionary for wearing their hair the way it comes out of their scalp. Straight hair whether you realize, acknowledge, accept it or not is not an African American trait and therefore the desire for it is a sign of not being satisfied with one's self. Not saying you want to be white or non-black, but certainly you aren't okay with everything that being Black entails..think about it. Yes, you are still black even if you have a relaxer, but why is a relaxer a better option that discovering how to care for your natural texture (regardless of what it is). Even, it is really hurting you (as the can disintegration showed in the film) WHY?
I was a little disappointed in the movie. I thought it would talk more about the benefits of being natural vice using the chemicals and the weave. I think Chris Rock could have used this forum as a way to get young girls to understand that they are beautiful the way God created them. I also felt the hair show was a big waste of time and energy and just a big mess all the way around. I was very disappointed in that part of the movie. If I had to do it over, I would wait to RENT the DVD.
I thought that it was kind of long, and they spent too much time featuring the Bronner Bros. competition. However, I did learn a lot about our attitude about our HAIR and how it molds us. Is HAIR a fashion statement or a CULTURAL statement? I think it is both. This film was very enlightening to me and sad at the same time. I have not seen the other movie by Regina Kimbell though.

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