What Did You Think Of Good Hair?

Well, we know what we think. With friends, family, and boyfriends in tow, Anna, Dodai, and I hit the theaters this weekend to check out Chris Rock's comedic documentary Good Hair. And most of us liked it.

Good Hair follows Rock's journey to discover what exactly qualifies as, well, good hair. Over the course of the film, Rock visits beauty schools, a hair show, India, barbershops, and beauty supply stores in search of answers. He interviews Hollywood notables like Nia Long, Raven-Symoné, and Meghan Good. He visits relaxer factories and chemical labs. But through it all, the quest for a father to answer his daughter's question anchors the story. Good Hair appears to have done well for its opening weekend - it made over a million dollars on opening weekend ($6,005 average per screen) with a limited release, and was 14th over all.

We all agreed that Good Hair was enjoyable viewing - but was it good? Anna, Dodai, and I try to hash out our feelings below.

ANNA:

Okay, I'll start.

I've had 24 hours to digest the movie and I'm left with the same impression I had yesterday afternoon: Good Hair was comedic - lord knows I love a good Chris Rock joke - but it was not particularly challenging. But let me back up: I think that Rock and his producers' choice to frame the film with footage from the Atlanta hair show was a mistake. Certainly, the Atlanta hair show says something larger about black womens' hair - namely, the versatility of it, the money pumped into it, the theater of it - but that's about it. For me, the most compelling moments were the one on one interviews - especially Nia Long, who spoke uncharacteristically frankly for a Hollywood starlet, and Sarah Jones, whose joke about "tumbleweaves" had both my sister and I howling in our Times Square theater - and the brief glimpses of Chris interacting with his beloved baby girls, who inspired the film in the first place. (Question: Where was his wife in all of this?)

I will give Chris major points for the segment in which he goes to India to see how the human hair used in weaves is obtained. The resulting footage was damning: Human beings in a third world country reduced to their body parts, which are then sold off so that comparatively rich women in the first world can use them as adornments. Ugh. Seeing those swaths of hair being sorted, laid out, combed through and spun into perfect bundles of shiny ebony silk made me sick to my stomach. I was also troubled by the meme/hypothesis Chris kept pushing about black male economic complicity - subsidization, really - of the weaves found on black womens' heads. Does Chris really think that the (considerable) expense of a weave or hairpiece is SOOOO out of reach to the average black woman that they so directly inform her choice(s) of mate and his accompanying earning power? Does Chris believe that weaves are what black women really care about when it comes to where they choose to spend their - or others' - money? What about ownership of a home? Secondary education? I found the whole line of questioning offensive, and the men he spoke to, even someone supposedly as intelligent as Al Sharpton, were more than happy to oblige him in it.

LATOYA:

Hmm. I liked the film a lot - if you watched Chris Rock's other movies, Good Hair flows with that aesthetic. The fact that Rock would have a question - that is broadly about the women's obsession with hair, and intersperse the fact finding with as many moments of comedy as he could just makes total sense.

I also really liked the one-on-one interviews, but you neglected to mention one of my favorites - Ice-T. And I enjoyed the hair show framing because it illuminated quite a few things. While I was annoyed at Rock's tired-ass "all look same" joke, the hair show showed (1) the magnitude of the hair business, (2) how few of the vendors are black owned, (3) how much of a mega-industry this is, and (4) how stylists become celebrities. (In my theater, a gleeful cheer ran through the crowd, when Derek J, of Real Housewives of Atlanta fame, came on the screen.) In addition, I felt like some of the inclusions were intentional. How did a white boy like Jason Griggers learn to do black hair - and consistently win marks for best hair styles? When he talked about having a teacher who kept after him to learn to work a Marcel Iron, it starts to become a clear contrast how "difficult" black hair is to work with. It really just needs a skilled hand.

I did feel like Rock stressed the wrong side of the economic equation. I felt like he was pressing for humor but that was a serious question - exactly how much money do we sacrifice in pursuit of this idealized hair? And, as`many women explained in the film, it's one of those rituals that you never stop.

DODAI:

Ice-T was my favorite too!

But I also agree that the focus was a little off. When Chris Rock spoke to a group of high school seniors — 5 or 6 girls with relaxed hair, and one young lady with a natural 'fro — my heart broke when her schoolmates said they couldn't see her getting a job with that hair, and that walking into a law office in a suit with an Afro was a "contradiction."

CONTRADICTION. Like suit=success and Afro=failure.

I wish Rock had followed that part up with an interview with Toni Morisson or Cornel West or Angela Davis (or Michaela Angela Davis) — someone BRILLIANT with natural hair. Or even Alek Wek! The women in the film who have natural hair — Traci Thoms; Sarah Jones — were eloquent and funny but I would have liked more voices saying that you can be successful in life without relaxing your hair or wearing a weave. I know Maya Angelou was in it, but I felt like there were SO MANY pretty women with straight hair or weaves and not enough of the alternative: Dreads, afros, natural curls, etc. On people with JOBS.

I thought the finances of hair were interesting, but there were times that I thought it was condescending — I mean seriously, women spend on hair AND makeup and TAMPONS and WAXING and a lot of stuff men don't spend on. So seeing men agog at the cost? Whatever. It didn't feel that effective. I agree with LaToya in that it is a serious question — - exactly how much money do we sacrifice in pursuit of this idealized hair — but might have been illustrated in a different and more powerful way — like what if he had followed a woman who quit her weave/relaxer habit? And talked to her before and after? And showed that it's not the end of her life — and her hair is not her life? It was funny and I did enjoy it, but I think the fact that it was from a man's perspective worked well when he spoke as a father and worked against him when he was just a critic/comedian making fun of the cash women spend on something they clearly feel they need to. I wish he would have explored the idea that maybe they *don't* need to.

LATOYA:

Oh, thanks for bringing that up.

Upon reflection, I actually felt Rock's treatment of natural hair dealt with the issue in a very realistic way. Out of 95 minutes, maybe 10 or so are spent discussing natural hair - and most of that is negative. But again, I feel like this is realistic. In progressive circles (particularly the blogosphere) you see so many articles and communities dedicated to the positive discussions and portrayals of natural hair, but I felt like that quick scene with the seniors was a lot more indicative of the attitudes about natural hair in the real world. "It's nice, BUT..."

I mean, these girls felt straight up comfortable saying "Well, I wouldn't hire you with a 'fro." But again, I feel like that's what many people are quietly thinking. Remember, I'm only two years into a transition - the world does treat me differently now, in many ways, than two years ago. While I'm cool hanging out with my curly/kinky/nappy tribe (who all came to watch the doc with me) we *all* knew what the one natural haired girl was going through.

On the flip side of that, I was really glad that Rock focused a lot on weaves. Because, again, we are literally adorning ourselves with someone else's hair because our hair has been deemed unworthy. There's even the ranking of the weaves with Tyra's bouncing segment,where human hair bounces and synthetic doesn't. So I felt like even though there wasn't much time spent on it, Rock did illuminate a lot of the negative attitudes about natural hair that go quietly (or not so quietly) hidden. I mean, that scene where he's trying to sell black hair to beauty supply stores was ridiculous, and over done, but it was all worth it for that one shot where there's the Asian employee and the black employee, and the black employee is talking about how "no one wants to look like that anymore" and how straight hair was the standard. And in the eyes of many, that's real - why would you embrace a natural when you have all these other options?


ANNA:

I'm surprised not to hear more from both of you about the segment(s) involving the manner in which human hair used in weaves is obtained. Again, I was really, really disturbed by it, and I wish that Chris had spoken to an Indian woman - or even the Indian man who travels around West L.A. selling the imported locks - as to her/his feelings on this factory-farming of human keratin. Chris seemed somewhat taken aback by the whole thing, initially, but he didn't work particularly hard to press any of the individuals in that particular "food chain" (the donors, the buyers, the sellers, the hairdressers, the clients) - as to the real and problematic issues inherent in any market that trafficks in human body parts for the benefit of the wealthy. I will say one thing: I did love the inadvertent admission by the Beverly Hills hairstylist who let it slip that actress Vivica A. Fox prefers Malaysian hair for her weaves - too bad Chris didn't get her on camera to comment.

LATOYA:

Vivica's going to be mad when she sees her hair secret is out! What if the movie drives up the price of Malaysian hair?

I guess I'm not surprised, so I'm not shocked. My mom sells lacefronts as a side business, and is the queen of weave. (Obviously, my afro - which she semi-lovingly calls an "ush" - doesn't go over too well.) Human hair has to come from some kind of human sacrifice - and, unlike with other obsessions, cutting hair doesn't require killing someone. Is it fucked up that temples are part of the grand laundering scheme? Completely. But the market is so huge, someone else will fill in the gap. Or, like one of the hair thieves explained, someone will just start chopping off ponytails in movie theaters.

And if you press people, do they really care? I mean, we've been talking about blood diamonds for years, yet we still see people flashing diamond engagement rings and DeBeers is still in business.

DODAI:

The scenes involving the human hair business in India weren't that disturbing to me, either. I thought they were interesting, but not distressing or surprising. Actually, I was under the impression that women sold their hair (and I think they do in some European countries) and the idea that one woman's sacrifice becomes another woman's $3000 glory was fascinating.

But I do wish there had been more of an overall philosophical/anthropological tone — weaves are popular now; conking was popular once upon a time; Marcel irons go in and out of fashion. Ancient Egyptians used elaborate wigs and Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire had huge updos with birds and feathers and ships in them. Even though the film was correct to focus on race, sometimes I wondered if there was too much "OH LOOK AT WHAT THOSE CRAZY BLACK PEOPLE DO" subtext when humans have been playing with their appearances for centuries.


LATOYA:

I agree some more context would have been beneficial, but I think that last piece gets at the heart of the doc: yes, hair is an extension of fashion. But why are so many women treating it as an absolute necessity?

ANNA:

Because, Latoya, as Maya Angelou said in the movie, hair is a woman's "glory".

LATOYA:

Yeah, glory and apparently ill-gotten gains.

Good Hair [IMDB]
Good Hair [Box Office Mojo]