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Shear Comedy in Chris Rock's New Documentary

Los Angeles WAVE, News Feature, Olu Alemoru Posted: Oct 08, 2009

Whether natural or processed, free-flowing or covered with stylish headwear, no discussion of Black hair is just follicle-deep.

This is particularly true for Black women, who meticulously tend to their crowning glories in beauty establishments across the land, creating not just a multi-billion-dollar economy but a grooming ritual that has become a metaphor for life.

In the documentary Good Hair, comedian Chris Rock casts a critical and humorous eye on the Black hair-care business and explores the historical, political and social issues that play into the relationship between African-American women and their hair.

The film follows Rock as he journeys from New York to Atlanta, Dallas, Birmingham, Los Angeles and even India to find the finer points of the story. Along the way, he encounters hair-care professionals, beauty and barbershop patrons and celebrities including Raven Symon, Ice-T, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Nia Long and Salt-N-Pepa, all of whom offer their hair-raising and candid perspectives.

The background to the film is rooted in Rocks early stand-up career, and an out-of-the-mouth-of-babes moment when his then five-year-old daughter asked him why she doesnt have good hair.
Like any doting dad, Rock laughed it off and told her for the umpteenth time that day just how beautiful she was. But the question struck a chord and a potential film idea was born.

Rock had always vividly recalled doing a stand-up gig in Atlanta during the annual Bonner Bros. Hair Show, an iconic event that has filled the citys hotels for a half-century, but that the young comic was oblivious to.

Thus, teaming up with the creative team behind HBOs The Chris Rock Show, including producer Nelson George, writers Lance Crouther and Chuck Sklar and writer/director Jeff Stilson, they set about weaving an interesting tale to tell.

Using the centerpiece of the Bonner Bros. show the Hair Battle Royale Finale between top hair stylists as a narrative, Rock frequently moves into investigative journalist mode to impart some fascinating facts and expose a healthy share of double-take moments.

One of the earliest in that regard is when Rock visits Dudley Products in Greensboro, North Carolina one of the oldest African-American-owned hair product companies to see how relaxer, whose key ingredient is sodium hydroxide, is made.

Cutting from the huge vats of white liquid, Rock then consults an expert chemist who uses soda cans to demonstrate the harmful effects of the solution. After 20 minutes, three-quarters of the can has been eroded, 40 minutes later half the can has been eaten away and within an hour it had nearly evaporated.
Meanwhile, on the India trip, Rock visits a Hindu temple to witness a religious hair-sacrificing ceremony called tonsuring. A highly-prized commodity, human hair is one of the countrys largest exports, and each year more than 10 million Indians sacrifice hair to deity.

After the hair is shorn, it is processed and sold to international dealers but what cut religious leaders and government officials receive is something audiences are left to ponder.
They were very gracious to let us film at the temple, but we had to get out of their fast, joked Rock when quizzed last week for more detail.

As the film points out, extensions are a big part of the business it is estimated that hair weaves make up about 65 percent of the $9 billion revenue driven annually by Black hair care. And depending on the length, texture and type (synthetic or human), it can cost anywhere from $400 to more than $4,000.

On camera, video vixen Melyssa Ford, with a hint of embarrassment, admits she has spent around $18,000 in a year on weaves.

That was the biggest shocker for me, said Rock, while promoting the film at a Beverly Hills hotel.
The money being spent is big and another thing we found out is the effect this can have on relationships. I mean its like dating somebody with a drug habit. Imagine if a woman was dating a guy and he spent almost $10,000 on baseball cards. It probably wouldnt work.

Despite that, Rock doesnt think hes stirring up a hornets nest by tackling the subject. I dont think its something Black people are having to deal with [in that respect], he said.

Its just that there hasnt been a movie about it, so thats why were here right now. I dont think any of us [in this room] are pained by our hair. Maybe we had that experience, but that was 20 years ago. I think today, we pretty much rock the hair we feel like rocking.

However, Nia Long, who also appeared at the filmmakers session with entertainment journalists, disagreed slightly.

I still think its a sensitive subject, but generally speaking were at a place where young girls are very proud about the choices they make, she said. Theyre like, Im gonna get the longest, weaviest weave and Im gonna be proud because its like buying a new pair of shoes.

But Im concerned that as Black women we dont lose our identities based on images that the media celebrates. I want us still to be able to appreciate who we are in our raw state.

As for those pressures, Raven Symon, who has grown up in limelight, was fairly sanguine.

I dont necessarily resent the images, but I hope it will change one day, she said. But you have people like India Arie, and Halles rocked the natural look. Ive been on the red carpet with my natural hair and theyve called me a poodle. Its a business, so peace out. Ill be me and then for you, well do what needs to be done.

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