On the surface Good Hair sounds like the thinnest idea for a movie since Andy Warhol documented 24 hours in the life of the Empire State Building using only one static shot. Comedian Chris Rock’s look at the African-American hair industry could have been a bit on the gimmicky side but he and director Jeff Stilson wring every ounce of interest from the subject.
Inspired by his young daughter asking, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?,” Rock uses gentle humor to examine the relationship black women have with their hair. He interviews everyone from teen star Raven-Symoné to author Maya Angelou to decipher why and how African-American women go to such lengths to modify their hair. They discuss weaves—hair extensions described as “the graduation of the wig”—and relaxer, a potion used to straighten hair for a more “European look” that several women refer to as “creamy crack” because of their dependence on the toxic balm.
It’s all rather light and breezy and would be kind of inconsequential if Rock and company hadn’t broadened the film to examine how hair care in the African-American community became a billion dollar industry and why more of the businesses that feed this industry aren’t black owned. “There’s something wrong when we can’t control something as basic as the hair on our heads,” says Al Sharpton (called the “Dalai Lama of Relaxer”).
Good Hair works because it cleverly uses a study of African-American hair culture as the gateway to examine larger issues of race without ever sounding preachy or pedantic. Is it perfect? No, a hair competition that bookends the film could easily have been shortened or cut altogether, but it’s worth the price of admission to watch Rock talk hair—male and female—with the folks at a barbershop or hear Ice-T talking about getting a mug shot taken while wearing curlers.
Ultimately Good Hair’s most important message is summed up by Al Sharpton who says, “The stuff on top of their heads isn’t as important as the stuff inside their heads.