Man, this movie made me feel naive. It’s a documentary about black women’s hair, and it’s not really made for a white audience, it seems mainly designed to inspire discussion about beauty standards among the black community. But it was also fascinating for a white dude like me, and maybe more surprising. I had no idea. I never really thought about some of this stuff.
The director is Jeff Stilson, a writer for Letterman, The Chris Rock Show, Ali G, etc. But the movie is in the point of view of Chris Rock, who narrates and goes around talking to celebrities, hair stylists and experts. He explains that one of his young daughters asked him why she didn’t have “good hair,” and this sends him on a journey to understand why so many black women grow up hating the way their hair grows naturally. He explores straightening combs, relaxant and weaves, asking questions that draw out the absurdity of it all but rarely judging or directly commenting. Though sometimes the look on his face says it all.
There’s an ongoing storyline that’s a little less pointed, but really interesting. They follow a group of hairstylists who compete at cutting hair on stage at a major hair industry convention. They have to have music, choreography, themes, in one case there’s a 70 person marching band involved. This is where the movie gets some of its funniest characters. There’s even a white gay guy who’s an expert with black women’s hair, and who decides for some reason to get his first botox injections on camera.
The style is similar to Michael Moore’s movies or RELIGULOUS, with lots of funny lines in the narration, stock footage and media clips cleverly edited in, and satirical stunts to get some of the points across. After talking to hair stylists about relaxant and visiting a factory in Ohio where it’s made Rock gets a demonstration from a white chemist about the chemical it’s made out of. When Rock says, “You know people put this in their hair, right?” the chemist is taken aback. “What!? Why would they do that?”
The part that caught me off guard though was the weaves. You don’t really think about it. All these beautiful black actresses and singers who have straight hair – huh, go figure, it’s not theirs. It’s not even straightened, it’s a wig creation meticulously sewn over her own hair, it costs thousands of dollars. Raven Symone (later episodes of the Cosby Show) talks about how picky she is about hers, she doesn’t want it to look waxy. But man, I’d prefer plastic to what most of these women use: “real human hair” imported from India. Rock is trying to get to the bottom of this phenomenon, so he does the logical thing – he goes to India to find where Good Hair grows. I guess I’ll treat what he finds out as a SPOILER, even though it’s real life. He finds out that most of the hair comes from a Hindu temple where people shave their heads as a religious sacrifice. Then the temple sells it. Rock says they have no idea that the vanity they’re shunning for their religion is being sold and flown around the world to be sewn on the heads of “doctors, lawyers, even strippers on the pole.”
The movie is not an all-out indictment. Rock seems to genuinely try to be understanding. He does find that one of the relaxant companies is still black owned, so it’s not total exploitation. The women he talks to about the weaves are very candid with him, they have a sense of humor about it and he doesn’t make them look stupid. And when Al Sharpton told the story of the first time he straightened his hair (at the request of James Brown) I thought shit, if that was me I probly would do it too.
These are intelligent people, they can do what they want or what makes them feel good about themselves. But it just seems like a bum deal that they live in a culture that pressures them to go through physical pain and financial strain to look good, or especially to replace a part of themselves with a part of somebody else that that person grew naturally for free and then gave up. I mean, I know they don’t give a shit what I think but man, I’ve seen so many beautiful women with natural hair. Sure, Beyonce* and some of those women look great with straight hair, but they’d probly look great without it too. I personally think an afro is extremely attractive on a woman. And dreadlocks… don’t you remember how good Halle Berry looked in BULWORTH?
Ah shit, that’s what the problem is. We’re the problem. They don’t want guys like me and Senator Bulworth following them around all the time, and I don’t blame them. This is not really addressed in the movie, but I can take a hint. I’m thankful to Chris Rock for pushing me in the right direction to come to this understanding. I would like to apologize for scaring women away from afros.
Anyway, it all starts with Chris Rock worrying about his daughters, that’s what makes it sweet (not just making fun of somebody) and what makes it kind of a sad story. We all trust Salt and Pepa can make their own decisions, but when you see the little girl who tells Rock that she doesn’t like getting a perm but that his daughter should do it because “you’re ‘posed to” you’ll understand why it’s upsetting.
*the movie does not claim Beyonce has a weave. I have no idea if she does or not, I’m new to this.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.