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DVD/VOD Review - Chris Rock's 'Good Hair' Is Really An Ad For The Bronner Bros Hair Show

by Malcolm Woodard
March 30, 2013 11:26 AM
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I skipped this when it was in the theaters in 2009, after reading hearing about how empty, though funny, it was. At the time, there seemed to be plenty of mainstream media focus on *blackness*. It was the year that CNN debuted its Black In America series, and also there was a lot of attention being given to the plight of the single professional black woman in America, and, of course, in the midst of all of that, there was the never-ending black hair debate.

So I really wasn't in the mood for anything that handled any of *our* issues trivially. It just didn't feel like the right time. But maybe it was just me. So I'll leave it at that.

As the years passed, I actually forgot all about the film, until recently, when I watched it for the very first time as a DVD rental. I have a 10-year-old daughter, and a conversation I had with my wife about our daughter's hair, reminded me of the film, so I finally picked it up and watched it.

The film begins with a question. A question Chris Rock's own 7-year old daughter, Lola, asks him. A question that was the basis and motivation for the creation of the documentary. And that question was: "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?"

Given that set-up, one would expect that, by the end of the documentary, an answer (or answers) will be provided to the question, in all its breadth and complexity.

Does that happen?

Well, about an hour into the 95-minute film, after lots of clowning around on what's really a serious issue, Rock finally, seems to answer the question, by stating that he tells his daughters to prize what's inside of their heads more than what's on it. An assuring answer, I suppose - the old, "it's what on the inside that counts" line that I'm sure we've all heard at one time or another. 

However, as I've learned as a father, it's just not that simple. Try explaining that to a little girl who ventures out daily, into a world that relentlessly tells her the opposite. It's a daily commitment that my wife and I have made - to make sure that we provide our daughter with as much of our values to counter the attack (because that's really the best way to described it) she faces in what she sees and hears on the outside.

Rock should be aware that what's inside of their heads is indeed very much influenced by what's on it; in other words, what they feel about themselves is partly dictated by how their physical selves are received by the world in which they live - a world that's so woefully consumed with what's on the surface, as women (more often than not) subject themselves to, sometimes, deadly procedures in order to fit some standard of beauty - one that's primarily determined by white men, based predominantly on an Eurocentric model.

Let's face it, as we all know, "black hair" is a rather broad and loaded topic, chock-full of historical and present-day complications that simply can't be addressed in a 95-minute documentary - especially one that tackles the matter so jovially and casually. 

Good Hair does occasionally attempt to delve into some of the weightier aspects of the subject, with "attempt" being the operative word in that sentence. However, every developing moment of discomfort, difficulty and revelation in the film is quickly de-thorned with Chris Rock's trademark humor. There's almost always a punchline, or smart-aleck remark, to keep affairs blithely moving ahead, onto the next set-piece, all building up to a rather trivial competitive showdown at the Bronner Bros International Hair Show, which, in my opinion, added very little to the film's original premise.

Actually, thinking back on it, I'd say that the hair show that ends the movie, and all the build-up leading to it, really was the film's focus, and not an investigation into the culture of hair - "black hair" specifically. In fact, I'd go out on a limb and say that about half the movie - maybe even more of its 95-minute running time - is dedicated to the Bronner Bros Hair Show and its 4 main competitors. 

So what was the point of it all then?

As I type this, I don't know whether it's even worth it to bother discussing the film with any degree of sincerity and earnestness, because it's clear that the production team weren't very much interested in getting to the root of the matter at hand. It's purely entertainment, and not much more. So, you can either simply just accept it for what it is, and leave the theatre not necessarily feeling like you've reached some new level of enlightenment; or you can get all riled up and lament the absence of any real challenging substance, and, what is, in effect, a wasted opportunity.

With a shrug, I suggest the former. You'll lose less hair that way since you won't be pulling it out in frustration.

I give Good Hair 2 out of 5 stars.

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  • Tia | March 30, 2013 6:21 PMReply

    When I first saw the film in the theatre, I wasn't expecting it to be some serious, investigative piece examining the issue. Once I found out Chris Rock was involved in it, I knew the film was going to come from a comedic perspective. I just took the film for what it was - nothing serious, just laughs. If anything, the film mostly makes fun of black hair culture, as it points out some of the absurd lengths black women go to have so-called "good hair." I remember a part in it where a public school teacher was being interviewed in the hair salon talking about how she spends $1,000 per hair salon visit and is on a layaway program for her weaves. (Like how can she afford that on a public school teacher salary?) Then there was another part about 6-year-olds getting perms. (SMH!) But then again, maybe a film from a comedic perspective is going to draw more people to the theatre and then the more serious conversation can begin afterwards.

    Again, I took the film for what it was. Soledad O'Brien is going to continue her "Black in America" series. Maybe she can do a documentary on black hair from a more serious angle.

  • BluTopaz | April 1, 2013 1:33 PM

    Mawon, if you could take your foot out of your mouth for a sec, hon: I was referring to my friend who I referenced in detail: A woman who experience major damage to her hair after years of relaxing, tried a more natural route, it worked for a minute but she decided going back to putting lye in her hair was a better choice for her. All this after spending months telling almost every Black woman she knows to go see Good Hair. Guess that irony was as lost on you as it was on her.

    At no point did I make value judgements against all BW who relax their hair, but the fact remains. The lye in relaxers is toxic enough to eat through metal, no? It makes me no difference what other women do with their hair, but you can pretend that I'm a hatin' natural Nazihater if that empowers you. And you, or your loved ones, can also keep on with the Creme of Nature if that works for you.

  • mawon | April 1, 2013 11:12 AM

    @Blutopaz You're just soooo much smarter and better than black woman who rock relaxers, right? Why don't you stop judging other women's choices and worry about yourself. There's a way to have a conversation about our hair without being so god damn judgmental. I swear SOME black women are the biggest haters on the planet.

  • BluTopaz | March 30, 2013 7:18 PM

    I forgot--a Dominican co-worker told me what she thought about this movie. She is very light skinned with slightly Eurocentric features, and her hair looks naturally straight. She said she relaxed her hair for years, and that it's not just Black American women who deal with this issue. But I'm sure Rock thought it would be more chuckles to feature Black women only, under the guise of "helping" his daughter while his wife has straightened hair.

  • BluTopaz | March 30, 2013 7:03 PM

    "Maybe she can do a documentary on black hair from a more serious angle."

    Black people continue to be the one group in America who stay talking about our problems for the rest of the world to see and ridicule. Soledad knows less about this issue than Rock, aren't you tired of being put under a microscope?

    With the natural hair movement being more than a trend at this point, what good is ANOTHER documentary about our relationship to our hair? Why did any Black woman need Rock to tell them about how toxic relaxers are? I have been natural for about 15 years, and when this flick first came out my co-worker (who stayed wearing wigs, relaxers, weaves, etc.) was all gung ho about it, and trying to get me to go see it because "Chris Rock be keepin that ish real"... The irony that I was already wearing my hair natural (and it was much healthier and longer than hers) was lost on her, and that there are numerous websites, youtube videos, etc. for women transitioning to natural hair. She needed Chris Rock to ridicule her dependency on fake hair to educate her that Fabulaxer is bad. She did the natural hair thing for a few months with a short curly fro, it looked great and she received many compliments from friends, coworkers and strangers. But she decided it was to much work, that she hated her own hair and started wearing weaves and relaxing again.

    Sometimes I swear SOME Black women are the dumbest people on the planet.

  • Miles Ellison | March 30, 2013 6:16 PMReply

    I like Chris Rock, but this movie was basically self-loathing played for comedy.

  • ALM | March 30, 2013 5:52 PMReply

    One thing the movie did was provide Black women with a visual connection of just how caustic relaxers truly are. I have heard so many women discuss the scene where the relaxer eats through the metal soda can.

    I don't think that Rock intended for this to be a serious documentary. This was made to start conversations, and the film indeed accomplished that mission. I have heard that there are other documentaries out there that deal more with the social and emotional issues/stigmas surrounding "good hair".

  • Luce | March 30, 2013 7:32 PM

    I have to admit that it was that scene that made me stop "relaxing" my hair. Saw the movie on DVD early last year. Been clean from the cream ever since.

  • BeautyIAM | March 30, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    Thank you for the review. I was always hesitant to watch the movie because I didn't think I would learn anything I didn't already know. I still haven't watched it and know I'm not missing much. I always had a problem with Chris doing this because he is a Black man talking about a topic that many Black women can relate to. I didn't think he would be able to adequately talk about this subject because he cannot relate to the hair issues many black women have. I have seen other documentaries regarding Black women and hair that were made by Black women. So it is safe to say I'm probably never going to watch Good Hair.

    Also, the response he gave to his daughter about her hair kind felt like half of an answer. There is so much that I tell his daughter about how amazing and beautiful her natural hair is.

  • cruz777 | March 30, 2013 2:32 PMReply

    when i want real talk, even coming from comedians, Rock is not on my list. matter of fact, he's almost on my list where Morgan Freeman resides. almost, but he's not that bad...yet.

  • Sweeta | March 30, 2013 12:40 PMReply

    Before I even got into the article, I looked at the headline, reeled a little to resist, but then calmed down and was like " know, it's kinda true." Lol. I agree with your commentary on the film and the issue of "Black hair" in general.

    This part right here: "Rock should be aware that what's inside of their heads is indeed very much influenced by what's on it; in other words, what they feel about themselves is partly dictated by how their physical selves are received by the world in which they live - a world that's so woefully consumed with what's on the surface, as women (more often than not) subject themselves to, sometimes, deadly procedures in order to fit some standard of beauty - one that's primarily determined by white men, based predominantly on an Eurocentric model."

    Very true.
    Thanks for this!

  • Valsadie | March 30, 2013 12:37 PMReply

    Once I saw the clip of Chris walking around with the bag of hair, I knew he and Nelson George were taking the subject only but so seriously. And why would they? They're men, musing on womens hair, a subject they know little about -- and made faint attempts to understand. The comment I kept seeing over and over about this film when it came out was that it "could have been so much more." Also, there was talk of an earlier documentary by a woman that had looked at the subject more seriously.

    The bottom line, with me, was that Chris gave the wrong answer.
    "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?"
    "You DO have good hair -- who told you that you don't?? Yes, there are things your hair isn't, but let's talk about all the things your hair is. Your hair is strong, your hair is your crown, your hair is part of everything that makes you special. Your hair is yours, you can make it look however you want, and others will look on it and be impressed and know to pay attention to you. People who look down on your hair are not your friends. The people who appreciate and compliment your crown are the ones who really love you."

    Was that so hard?? Dang...

  • Sweeta | March 30, 2013 2:10 PM

    YES that answer Valsadie! That is the perfect answer!!!

  • J. Doe | March 30, 2013 12:36 PMReply

    I highly suggest that the author of this post check the film 'In Our Heads About Our Hair'! It's currently on the festival circuit and it's fabulous film hitting on all cylinders that Chris Rock missed.

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