Monday, October 26, 2009
Good Hair? Not So Good.
A couple of weeks ago, my boyfriend, who is the Treasurer of Clark University's Black Student Union (BSU) asked me if I wanted to join him and the club to go see Good Hair. I don't know if many of you have heard about this documentary, but to make a long story short and not make the whole rest of the post pointless, it is a film by Chris Rock about hair in the Black community and what makes it "good" or "bad." So BSU arranged to reduce the cost of tickets and arranged for a total of 28 people to get on a bus and be driven 45 minutes to Rhode Island to see the film. Most of us-- including Luke-- found out about the length of the bus drive when we got on the bus. We vehemently hoped that "Good Hair" was going to be the most amazing movie in the history of movies.
Chris, oh Chris, oh Chris. You are not a documentary filmmaker. No one would normally be asking you to be. But, you see, Chris, when you endeavor to make a documentary, then people are asking you to be documentary filmmaker. Which-- can I remind you?-- you're not. Very not.
The film opened with Chris Rock saying that one day, his very young daughter came home from school asking "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?" His daughter (who was perhaps 4 at the time? I don't remember, so don't quote me on that) has "natural" hair. The rest of the film was set up to be an exploration of how Black people style their hair and what makes "good hair."
Rock takes us to the Bronner Brothers hair show in Atlanta, where the best hairdressers in the country sell their wares and show their skills on the stage. It is one of the largest hair events around, and Black men and women flock to the show to buy new products, see demonstrations, and watch hair shows.
Rock takes us to the Dudley Hair Care & Cosmetics, one of the only Black-owned hair care companies around nowadays. Their big product? Relaxers. Rock spends a good portion of the movie talking about relaxers and interviewing stars who use them/have used them (the panel he uses throughout the movie includes Nia Long, Raven Symone, Al Sharpton, T-Pain, Maya Angelou, and Melyssa Ford, to name only a few). Some everyday people he interviews refer to relaxer as "creamy crack"-- and perhaps it's just as dangerous; just ask the Coke cans a scientist dissolves in the main ingredient! After seeing that, you may feel a little shocked that mothers bring daughters as young as two or three to get the treatment done.
We're also informed about weaves. Hairdressers go on and on about how women pay thousands of dollars to buy weaves, which then require ongoing upkeep. Rock interviews down-trodden-looking men about their women's weaves, which they are often asked to "subsidize." Several Black men insist that weaves are just one of the things that makes dating White women easier, more enjoyable, and less costly. Rock asks the women on the panel what kind of weaves they have, and when many answer "human," he inquires as to what kind of human. Overwhelmingly the response is "Indian." Rock ventures off to India, where he learns that though much of the weave hair that we get in America comes from the hair shorn from women at tonsore ceremonies, there is also a black market for hair: women sometimes have their hair secretively cut off while they sleep or while they are at a movie theatre, all so someone can turn a profit.
And this, unfortunately, is where Rock's journey figuratively ends. He explores weaves and relaxers and not much else, other than in one scene I am still seething over.
Rock meets with several high school girls to ask them about what they think "good hair" is. All the girls but one (who has, in my opinion, a lovely afro) have hair that is relaxed, straightened, or has a weave in it. One girl looks at the girl with the afro and says that her afro is "cute" but she would never hire her if she walked into her business. Another girl seconds this opinion, stressing how unprofessional natural Black hair looks. The girl with the afro is silent. She looks upset. She is not given a platform to speak. I was absolutely astounded that Rock left this moment rest. It would have been an excellent segue into a discussion on "natural" hair styles, but he doesn't touch the topic. I was enraged.
So this is one of the many things that has me shaking my finger at Rock's documentary. I liked that, by the end, we aren't left with a strong feeling that "good hair" is either natural or treated, as Rock both celebrated and criticized weaves and relaxers. However, we can't really know because natural hair-- and by this I mostly mean variations on afros or dredlocks, or just generally leaving your hair kinky/how it sprouts from your head-- is never really addressed. There is one woman on the panel who has natural hair (she may be biracial, but I'm not sure), and the girl who gets singled out by her classmates. Neither get much airtime. Does this mean natural hair is "bad hair?" I would have appreciated a stance that any way you do your hair is "good" if more options had been presented.
This film left a terrible taste in my mouth. I consider how it began as Rock trying to reconcile his daughter's ill feelings about her own hair. Why not celebrate natural hair? Why not put out the message that there are many beauties attributed to natural and treated hair, and that both are "good?" Why is Rock not taking this opportunity to tell his daughter she's okay-- she's beautiful-- just the way she is? That she was born with "good hair?"
Can you be born with "good hair?"
This film has my brain running angrily in circles. It leaves so many questions on the table. I feel that this topic is so large and so serious for the Black community that it was just not suited to a two-hour film. Perhaps a mini-series would have been better: an episode on afros, an episode on relaxed hair, an episode of dredlocks, an episode on weaves, an episode on braids, etc. At least Rock would have been able to cover all the appropriate ground in that format. This doesn't mean I still don't wonder why, if he was pressed for screen time, he didn't cut down the other segments to include segments on natural hair. Or the history of Black hairstyles. Or the prejudices associated with different styles. Or how men navigate hair culture. Or anything.
Perhaps I'm so bitter because my definition (as well as Luke's) of "good hair" was left out. Luke has a pretty abundant afro. It is well-kept, and in my opinion, just as professional as anyone else's hair. I think it's gorgeous hair. I think a number of so-called-natural Black hairstyles are absolutely beautiful. Just like the hair of any other person of any other ethnicity, if it's kept healthy and clean, it looks good. It seems many people are under the impression that Black hair is just dirty and unkempt (side note: the internet is an upsetting place), which is absolutely not true, especially in the case of dredlocks. I don't know if these people have ever known a White person with dreds, but it's pretty reliably offensive to the nose. That was a bit of a tangent, but I felt a little lost when a conversation on "good hair" didn't at all include the hair styles I feel are beautiful. I felt a lot like the high school girl with the afro seemed to feel. I sat there, waiting, hoping, for someone to speak up in defense of natural hair, but it never happened.
Anyway, I have a lot to rant about with this movie, and I don't know if I'd honestly recommend you see the movie. It's a good conversation-starter (moreso if you already have an opinion, I think), but it's also seriously lacking when it comes to content. I don't know if I'd advocate handing money over to Chris Rock, who seems to have half-assed this project to the highest degree (and did I mention Bronner Brothers Show, which took up a large portion of the film, was also one of the sponsors? Hmm).
Unfortunately, I have class tonight when BSU is meeting to discuss Good Hair further. Most of the members I overheard talking about it shared my feeling that the film was extremely incomplete. Hopefully, though, it will get the members talking about their own definitions of "good hair."
Have you seen Good Hair? If so, what did you think of it? If not, reflect a bit on this post in the comments. What do you think "good hair" is?