What is “good hair”? It’s different things to different people. On the evidence of the mind-boggling figures presented in this documentary, what constitutes “good hair” to a large proportion of the black female population involves a complicated process of relaxing, weaving, and other dangerous things, sometimes not even involving your own hair at all.
Chris Rock is an amiable host. His usually electrifying and energetic presence is scaled way back to a much more relaxed, deadpan, but still engaged style. He probes celebrities, important figures in the hair industry, and normal women in salons on their insights and experiences with their hair. This is all nice, interesting, an area of American culture about which there is a lot of ignorance outside of African American society – Nia Long explains the problems of having sex as a woman wearing a weave, while Salt N’ Pepa expound on how much money they’ve probably spent on their hair in their lifetimes (upwards of $150,000).
While all of this is fun and light-hearted, the real genius of this documentary lies in the second half. Rock digs a little bit deeper into the subject and looks at the origins of the hair trail that runs from a small temple on India to Los Angeles, and the enormous profits that these hair exports make. There is some insight into hair crimes in India, in which women are robbed of their hair in cinemas or while they’re sleeping, and a small intimation of naivety on the religious believers who are sacrificing their hair to their god, only for it to be collected and sold for profit.
He also examines attitudes towards black hair in wider society, and the surprisingly negative reactions that it receives in its natural state. A sequence in which Rock goes from shop to shop, trying to sell so-called African hair (an afro wig), elicits horrified reactions from the hair sellers. The idea of black hair in its untreated state as a political statement is often raised, but never really expanded upon in a satisfactory way.
The film culminates with the Bronner Brothers hair competition, a battle royale between four competitive hair dressers and their elaborate stage shows. That one of the entrants, Jason, is a white man is a surprise, but it shows how the industry accepts anyone if they are good at what they do. The coverage of the competition feels tacked on just to provide a finalé to the film, but there’s some really interesting insights from the hair stylists that just about make the whole thing worthwhile.
Good Hair is a really fun documentary about a surprisingly interesting subject, and one which has big things to say about attitudes towards beauty in society.
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