Good Hair

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Posted October 8, 2009 in Film

Think “good” hair is a niche obsession? Chris Rock and director Jeff Stilson (a former The Daily Show writer) extend those extensions until they stretch from Atlanta to India, making white businessmen and Asian entrepreneurs rich, and black women (and their boyfriends) too broke to pay bills. “Better a foreclosure than a weave-closure,” jokes Rock to two weave buyers. As our guide through the wilds of hair culture, Rock has a knack for disguising harsh points with his we’re-all-friends grin; he can defuse tension by pulling someone into an expected hug, except when a barbershop is shouting down a guy who prefers white women because they let him pull on their hair.

 

Motivated by his two young daughters—both under 6 and already aware their hair is “bad”—Rock and his team of writers find the pressure to have “good” hair has teased knots into even the basic ideas of self-esteem and financial independence for black Americans. Though they make up 12 percent of the population, they spend 80 percent of the dollars in hair care. And those dollars aren’t being funneled back into the community. Says Al Sharpton, “You get up and comb your exploitation every morning.” Not that he doesn’t straighten his hair. He took up the scalp-burning habit when James Brown convinced him it would help win Ronald Reagan over to establish Martin Luther King Day. “When your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed,” he explains—and several other talking heads back him up, even though Rock learns at a lab that the chemicals in hair relaxant can dissolve a coke can in four hours.

 

Everyone from T-Pain to Raven-Symoné, Maya Angelou to Salt N Pepa chimes in about their hair rituals (Pepa admits that the signature half-short hair she sported in the “Push It” video was the result of a chemical burn). But some of the most real sound bites come from Rock’s trips to the beauty parlors, where women spend money they don’t have on $1,000 base model weaves. One of the most delicate moments comes when three college girls, all proud buyers of “good” hair, confess to their one natural friend that they might not hire her at a job interview because she doesn’t look “professional.” Who defines professional? This doc never quite finds the source, but it sure shows us the damage its done to wallets, egos and follicles.


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