Monday Movie: Good Hair by @chinablue79

I’m not normally a fan of Chris Rock in films; the charismatic-Cheshire Cat-looking-wide-eyed-preacher-on-acid delivery, which normally has me in stitches, somehow translates into a total lack of charisma and grating goofiness. However, his dimmed on-screen light makes him a sensitive and empathetic interviewer for his documentary Good Hair.

I had the privilege of catching Chris Rock at a Q&A session after a special screening at Brixton’s Ritzy in May. Previewed at Sundance in 2009 and gaining rapid word-of-mouth buzz amongst African-American and then Afro-Caribbean female bloggers and Twitterers, Good Hair is finally out now. Hit the jump for the full review:

The film performs a neat trick that’s surprisingly hard for a documentary: covering a hard-to-define and sensitive subject - the plaintive question from Rock’s adorable young daughter: ‘Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?’ - in a way that is insightful, engaging, easily relatable (for, well, non-black people) and funny. (I’ve written about the subject in-depth elsewhere, for the benefit of anyone reading this thinking ‘but it’s all just hair, surely?’ It isn’t.)

Along the way, we get behind the scenes of the ultra-competitive and bitchy world of hairdressing competitions. We go to India, where Hindu religious devotees happily donate their hair to the temples for nothing, knowing nothing of the cachet ‘Indian hair’ carries. We meet unintentionally racist hair-shopkeepers, ordinary women who buy thousand-dollar weaves on layaway (never-never) and a black man who runs his own hair and beauty empire – an exception, rather than the rule.

Interviewees such as the acerbic comedian Paul Mooney, Rev. Al Sharpton (he of the trademark James Brown-inspired leonine-relaxed locks), actresses like Raven-Symone and Nia Long, and even Ice-T bring some new insights to the table. Did you know that a pimp grows his hair long so he can parade about with it in rollers – the bigger, the better? And that the best way for a man (mainly applicable to pimps) to have the upper hand on a woman is to be ‘flyer than her’? Oh, and the chemical used in relaxers is so corrosive that it can destroy a Coke can (ah, that good old standard) and has been known to soften the skulls of black
women who use them regularly? Yeah, that freaked me out too.

The film does a great job of revealing the collective black psyche and addresses wider race issues, in a beautifully oblique way that shouldn’t alienate anyone outside its core audience. It’s an intelligent and searching film that, in Rock’s hands, never gets too heavy-handed despite the earnestness at its heart.

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