by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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Good Hair is a great lighthearted, but serious, documentary by Chris Rock that sheds (no pun intended) a telescopic light on the trials and tribulations of black women around their search for manageable, convenient hairstyles.
Rock was inspired to make the movie after one of his daughters asked him why she didn’t have good hair like her white classmate.
Now, I need to start off by saying that I wear locks and have had them almost 10 years. My decision to grow locks came after about 10 years or so of a faded cut and then a mini afro. Before that, from my teens to mid 30’s, I wore either straightened hair or a perm.
Rock travels to many towns to research his documentary, but Atlanta is the background for the Bronner Bros. International Hair Show, and Rock interviews contestants in this semi-annual hair show, and even visits their salons to see just why they are so popular. Good Hair culminates in the show and the hair expo, where hundreds of black hair products are sold, mostly by white merchants to black consumers.
But Rock also travels to India, the Mecca for human hair, where he shows that a religious ritual requires that people shave their hair as a form of sacrifice to a Hindu god. And this shorn hair ends up being used by millions of black women throughout the United States.
Further disgust is shown when beauticians in Good Hair tell stories of black girls as young as 3 years old receiving perms by having the caustic chemicals slathered on their scalps because their moms feel their hair is not “straight” enough or the toddlers feel pressure from other classmates who have perms or extensions.
But the hours upon hours of labor that are required to sew a weave into a woman’s hair or to apply a perm are small issues compared to the money that is spent. One beautician admitted that a good weave could cost her customers between $1,000 and $3,000—but she proclaimed that she accepted lay-away. Rock wonders how women making a modest living are able to afford weekly or monthly hair maintenance. The men in the documentary admit that they often feel intimated when approaching a woman whose hair is really well tended to, because they know they are going to be out of money within the relationship to keep that woman’s hair maintained.
Good Hair is a great documentary, which has many more entertaining and educational points than I’ve shared in this review. And I don’t view Good Hair as spilling the beans about black women’s hair maintenance. I view it as a lesson to all black women to think how this dependency on hair styles might be more at the expense of their cultural identity—a loss that could never be measured by mere currency. I think maybe sistahs might consider other ways to wear certain styles and still keep a little money in their designer purses. Now that’s fodder for another documentary—the money both black and white women spend on designer shoes and purses in an effort to “keep up with the Joneses.”
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago, who just happens to wear locks.
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