Wednesday, May 19, 2010


To hair is human

By Edward Copeland
Chris Rock's documentary, directed by Jeff Stilson, exploring the expense and lengths African-American women go to for their hairstyling, be it using mere relaxers or expensive weaves, is painted as a racial distinction, but really it's one of gender. My aging mother still insists on going to the beauty salon once a week to get her hair done (nowhere near the extremes that some of the women in Good Hair go to mind you) even though she hardly ever goes anywhere where anyone would even see it.

Speaking as a white man who, since his health problems trapped him in a bed two years ago has trimmed his hair about three times total, women just obsess a lot more about what's on top of their head than men do (that is unless there is nothing on top of the man's head). Still, Rock's documentary does prove to be fascinating and even informative about the industry that revolves around the care of African-American women's hair.

The impetus for Rock's films came when one of his young daughters told her dad that she wanted "good hair" and it got Rock thinking about the time and money African-American women spend on unkinking their natural hair for smoother tresses.

Along the way, he investigates the true chemical makeup of hair relaxing products (and how potentially dangerous they could be if used incorrectly) and the insane amount of money and time spent on hair weaves, most of which uses human hair that has become India's No. 1 export.

On the business side, Rock also finds how so few African Americans actually own any part of the lucrative business outside of parlors and takes us inside the high stakes world of a once-a-year hair-styling competition. The costs women spend on their hair is staggering: prices for weaves can run into the thousands and take hours of work.

Many celebrities from actresses such as Nia Long and Raven-Symone to Ice-T, the Rev. Al Sharpton and even Maya Angelou speak as to the effects of the hair obsession on African-American life and it turns out to be an interesting and entertaining documentary. As Ice-T says though, if your lady is unhappy about her look, she's going to make everyone else miserable, so best to let her do what she wishes.

In the end though, Rock sums it up best when he says what he's going to tell his daughters as they get older: It's far more important what's inside your head than what's on top of it.

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"women just obsess a lot more about what's on top of their head than men do"

That's true. But then it's also true that, generally speaking, men are more concerned about what's on a woman's head than women are concerned about what's on a man's head. So we've helped create that obsession.

I enjoyed this documentary, in part because I saw it with a packed house full of African-Americans who laughed knowingly at the jokes before the punchlines hit. Good fun.
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