Movie Review: Good Hair (2009)

Chris Rock in Good Hair

Photo: Roadside Attractions

Chris Rock brings us a solid documentary addressing the subject of African American women (and men to a much lesser degree) and their approach to hair care in the aptly titled Good Hair. I’m not sure if he knew what he was getting into or just didn’t want to create too much of a stir, but while Rock takes a comical, yet understanding, approach to what would appear to be a superficial subject he unearths some details that are rather shocking but never veers too far off the established path.

Spending about 45-minutes on hair relaxer and another 30 minutes on weaves and extensions before the ultimate finale, Good Hair ranges from local barbershops and big-time hair conventions to intimate conversations with stars such as Meagan Good, Nia Long, Eve and rap group Salt ‘n’ Pepa. Things shift gears, however, during an eye-opening trip to India and a visit with a scientist to discuss the dangers of sodium hydroxide (the chief ingredient in hair relaxer), making Good Hair much more than a simple exploration into what drives some black women to dedicate so much of themselves to their hair.

While he occasionally dips into Michael Moore territory, such as a stunt pulled in which he tries to sell some Los Angeles businesses black hair, Rock stops short when it comes to the more heady topics. His trip to India is an absolute stunner as learns the hair sold to America is one of India’s largest exports and comes from a Hindu Temple where women cut their hair in a ceremony where it is sacrificed for God. This hair is then processed and sold to international hair dealers for a large profit before making its way to the States.

It blew me away to find out religious exploitation can even find its way into the business of hair weaves and extensions. Especially to a point where a religious ceremony becomes the catalyst for a multi-million dollar industry from a society where so many are living in poverty. Forget a Chris Rock documentary, this needs a “60 Minutes” special accompanied by an international investigation, because it is just plain wrong.

The framework of Good Hair doesn’t appear to have ever even thought of uncovering a global issue as the narrative primarily revolves around the Bronner Bros. hair convention in Atlanta. Rock uses the convention as a jumping off point to introduce black hair-styling products, the irony in the fact the majority of the companies selling them are white or Asian owned and then exploring the lengths to which people would go in dealing with both physical pain, when it comes to hair relaxers, and monetary expense before concluding with a lavish and self-indulgent hair stylist competition.

Rock is an excellent interviewer when dealing with the stars and gets them to admit to far more than you would expect such as a conversation about sex with Nia Long, who was extremely open to discussing all facets of the subject. It was also an interesting listen as the topic of sex and relationships was taken to a black barbershop where a group of black men debated and discussed the subject of black women’s hair at length. Rock’s approach is genuine, occasionally judgmental but for the most part curious as he guides the story around his own daughters, one of which sparked his interest in asking him, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”

However, as fascinating as it is to explore the human reasoning behind supporting the industry, the asides Rock uncovers along the way turned this into much more than a light-hearted affair. Some may think it’s a bit disjointed as a result of the coverage of the hair convention and the exuberant finale, but I think Rock stumbled upon something much larger than anyone could have predicted making for an informative, interesting and almost tragic documentary on a subject most would assume would be far more innocent.

GRADE: B

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