‘Good Hair,’ Bad Vibes

Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” is funny, very funny, but all the jokes come at the expense of black women.

HBO Films
HBO Films

There’s no question that in Good Hair, Chris Rock brings the funny. (Trolling the streets of Los Angeles, peddling “black hair” that no one wants.) There’s no question that he brings the outrage. (Showing a preschooler submitting to the “creamy crack”—a chemical relaxer.) There’s no question that he brings the dirt, getting celebrities to tell it. (Nia Long on her fake hair: “Weave sex is a little awkward.”)

But while Rock’s foray into the tangled web of black women and their hair, is indeed very, very funny, very, very outrageous, and at times very, very revealing, there are two things that he does not bring to the conversation: Context and compassion.

Which is too bad, considering that Rock’s stated purpose for doing his documentary was his shock at his young daughter’s plaintive question, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” Good Hair as in, “blow hair,” “silky,” “nice,” “wavy,” “relaxed and nice hair,” the type of locks not typically found on the heads of folks descended from south of the Sub-Sahara. The hair thing is a question that’s long bedeviled black folks living in a post-colonial world, the subject of doctoral dissertations, books and yes, documentaries. (And if you think that only African-American women struggle with the good hair meme, then you’ve never set foot inside a Dominican beauty parlor.)

In his quest to get to the—ahem—roots of the good-hair obsession, Rock travels the world, from the Harlem beauty parlors to the Olympics of hair shows to Hindu Temples in India where devotees shave their heads in a ritual of purification. And along the way, he unearths some startling revelations: Human hair is India’s No. 1 export; thieves cut off the hair of unsuspecting women and sell it on the black market.

Black hair is a $9 billion business, but only a handful of the companies that cater to that market are black-owned. Salt-n-Pepa’s asymmetrical ‘dos from the “Push It’’ era happened when Pepa came out on the losing end of chemical straightener. And back in the day, Ice-T willingly underwent the “torture” of the creamy crack because he thought he needed good hair to dominate his women. Apparently, it’s hard out there for a pimp.