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Friday, October 23, 2009
Hair To Lye, Cry And Dye For
By Omar P.L. Moore / PopcornReel.com Share
Chris Rock presides as a young girl gets her hair processed in the documentary "Good Hair". Roadisde Attractions
If anyone can make
the touchy, even explosive, subject of hair in the African-American community
humorous it's Chris Rock. Mr. Rock takes no prisoners in his stand-up
comedy acts and he's just the man to anchor this documentary directed by Jeff
Stilson and produced by Mr. Rock and Nelson George. "Good Hair" explores
the psychology of hair specifically among black women in America: why many of
the women want straight hair as opposed to "nappy", or natural hair, and the
lengths at which they will go to get it (try thousands of dollars.)
Mr. Rock interviews a cavalcade of noted figures in the black community, many of them famous entertainers and a prominent political figure like Reverend Al Sharpton, who offers devastating and thought-provoking analysis of the historical manifestations dating back to slavery, of black women (and some black men) wanting straight or European hair. The Reverend himself has straight hair, modeled after his mentor and literal godfather James Brown.
Watching Mr. Rock interact with his subjects about the complexity of hair is more entertaining than such a poisonous and personal subject has to be, but the laughter experienced by an audience is an effective antidote to the occasionally disturbing things revealed. If the on-camera disclosures by actresses Raven-Symone, Nia Long and Tracie Thoms aren't enough, then wait till you hear what Ice-T says about women and hair. He's had a music career in which many of his records were outrageously misogynist, but the things he has to say here are either funny and/or mildly offensive. There's also frank discussion among black men in -- where else but a barbershop -- about stereotypically "high-maintenance" black women and stereotypically "low maintenance" white women.
"Good Hair", an earnest, funny and sincere attempt at getting to the root (pardon the pun) of the hair controversy, feels longer than it is and could have been called "In order to achieve you just have to weave", but that title would likely have garnered more chuckles rather than any interested audience. Mr. Rock's and Mr. Stilson's documentary has abundant scope as its star travels to New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta and India, where virtually all of the human hair that black women wear is found. There's also an annual Atlanta hair-styling contest that gets as serious as drumline band competitions. One of the contestants is a young white man, regarded by many black women in the metro Atlanta area as a phenomenal stylist of black hair.
There's so much to ponder in this highly-noteworthy and painful film, even if the reaction shots of Mr. Rock beaming become repetitive to the point of overkill. "Good Hair" could have been about five minutes shorter without them, but with all the hair talk just how abbreviated could such a hilarious and harrowing exploration be?
With: Vanessa Bell Calloway, Maya Angelou, Paul Mooney, Salt 'N' Pepa, Andre Harrell, KRS-ONE, Eve, Meagan Good, Melyssa Ford, Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Sarah Jones, among many others.
"Good Hair" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for some language including sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity. The film's running time is one hour and 35 minutes.
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