Movie Review: GOOD HAIR

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good-hair-posterComedian activist Chris Rock was genuinely alarmed when he found his adorable six year old daughter, Lola, crying because she didn’t have ‘good hair.’ Set into motion by concerns about his little girl’s happiness and self esteem, Rock investigated America’s — and, in particular, African-American women’s — attitudes towards their hair. Basically, our white-dominated culture and media define ‘good hair’ as straight hair. That concept has social and political implications and impact, and fuels a billion dollar industry. This documentary is Chris Rock’s good hair day, an entertaining and provocative celebration of women’s rights to feel beautiful in their own skin with their own hair.

Synopsis

Filmmaker Jeff Stilson follows Rock to hair salons, barber shops, celebrities’ homes and the annual Bonner Bros. Hair Show, an African-American hairstyle expo that culminates in the Hair Battle Royale, in which where star-status stylists – including Tanya Crume, Kevin Kirk, Jason Griggers, Freddie J and Derek J — stage spectacular, outrageously costumed, carefully choreographed performances in which they style hair while dancing and doing acrobatics to win the best stylist title.

Interviewed at length, actress Nia Long reveals that she’s completely obsessed with her weave, and that meeting up with a lover in the shower — where her hair might get wet and nappy — is more intimate than getting into bed with him.

Also interviewed, women who work as teachers, secretaries and other professions say they spend a small fortune, even go into debt, to have their hair relaxed or get weaves. And, assuring equal opportunity, Rock interviews African-American men, some of whom pay for the ‘good hair’ of the women in their lives, admitting that it’s important to them, too, or raising their eyes as an expression of ‘what can you do?’

Rock also investigates the wig industry, centered in India, where impoverished women cut and sell their beautiful black tresses to be able to feed their families. Their hair is used to make expensive wigs sold in America and elsewhere — but mostly in America, where the pressure to have ‘good hair’ is particularly strong. According to the film, black hair is India’s biggest export!

Theme and Intent

Beneath Chris Rock’s smart and extremely funny commentary is a solidly researched study about what are in fact racist attitudes towards physical appearance. People with ‘good hair’ (i.e. straight hair) get better jobs, are more popular, have better sex lives.

On the flip side, ‘Nappy’ hair is ugly. ‘Nappy’ hair is also black. And, the preoccupation with fitting the popular, media-supported concept of beauty has given rise to an industry that attracts billions of consumer dollars every year — dollars that could and would otherwise be used to fill more substantial needs, such as education and eating better quality foods. The film is provocative and very moving, especially when you see that the sometimes torturous process of hair straightening begins when African-American women are just tots of two or three years of age. “Yes, it hurts,” they say. So, the film raises a serious question about whether the popular slogan “Black is Beautiful” should include natural hair.

Cast of Characters

Chris Rock is brilliant as himself, and his daughters are absolutely adorable. Then there are all the people Rock interviews and interacts with, including well-coifed celebrities, with Nia Long, Kerry Washington, Eve, Raven-Symone, Ice-T and Reverend Al Sharpton, among many others, as well as women and men in salons, at their jobs and on the streets — plus the battling stylists and hair product manufacturers.

There are no missing character types, and the parade of people is a lead-in for all of Rock’s insightful and comedic caustic comments.

Cinematic Style

Jeff Stilson’s direction supports Chris Rock’s humor, and sometimes the documentary feels a bit like a stand-up routine. But in-depth research and the use of a wide range of characters — well known and ‘person on street’ — to address issues of ‘good hair’ from individual perspectives establishes the film’s documentary authenticity.

The wildly entertaining hair show scenes are the product of excellent camera work and superb editing. With Rock as the central character and one of the script’s writers, the film’s timing and through line are spot on.

Bottom Line

Rock’s reporting is rock solid and his smart commentary is hilarious and, at the same time, extremely alarming. His curiosity about the subject, arising from concerns about what his daughters will face in the future, is unquestionably genuine. And his comedic approach to addressing the serious social, political and economic implications of the ‘good hair’ concept is effective. Jeff Stilson perfectly captures his intent and delightfully subversive attitude. Good Hair rocks!

Film Details:

Title: Good Hair
Director: Jeff Stilson
Release Date: October 2009 (New York) and September 11 (Los Angeles and select cities)
Running Time: 95 mins.
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some language including sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity.
Parents Advisory: strong language
Locations: Atlanta, Georgia and India
Language: English
Production Company: Chris Rock Entertainment
Distribution: Roadside Attractions
DVD: Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Trailer

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