Wednesday 26th July 2017,
Televisual

“Good Hair” Is Shockingly Preachy

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Chris Rock, whose kids inspired the movie, takes mothers to task for relaxing the hair of young children.

It’s easy to say Good Hair is superficial, putting a shiny gloss on a serious issue — it certainly is fun. There are plenty of appearances from celebrities (no, not Oprah or Michelle; they’re not stupid), and the film’s narrative is centered around the glamorous and ridiculous Bronner Brothers show and convention in Atlanta.

Good Hair is not really for people who aren’t invested in the future and state of black people. Sure, it’s entertaining enough to amuse almost anyone — Chris Rock isn’t rich for nothing. But it’s also entertaining because Good Hair is really talking to the black community, asking in a very stark, even censorious manner why black women spend from hundreds to thousands of dollars to support European aesthetics, businesses mostly owned by white and Asian Americans, and which exploits (perhaps) the poverty and religious practices of India. The appearances by Nia Long, who will forever be loved by black women for her role in Love Jones among other films, and the glitz of the Bronner Brothers is all meant to get black people in theatres. Like all Americans, black Americans don’t see documentaries. This documentary, Rock is saying, is too important to not be a hoot. It’s the Michael Moore philosophy.

Good Hair‘s invective is so subtly acerbic that lovable celebrities like Nia Long and Raven-Symoné seem a little silly for spending so much on their weaves (both probably spend tens of thousands a year). The movie goes after the chemicals used in relaxers, the hours of labor needed to install weaves and the dubious origins of the hair black Americans consume so voraciously. Al Sharpton, in many ways the film’s voice of reason (along with the lovely and talented Tracie Thoms), says in quite biting terms that black people literally “wear their oppression on their heads.”

There are moments when Rock concedes straight hair holds greater cultural and economic capital, and that everyone should be able to choose their hair. But it’s clear where his biases lie. In the end, even I,  somewhat knowledgeable about the politics of black hair despite having grown up in a household of mostly men, was surprised at how many good arguments there were for black women wearing their hair natural.

For that reason, Good Hair, getting a lot of love from critics, isn’t really made for mass consumption — most documentaries aren’t anyway, no matter how entertaining. It’s breezy so it’ll make money, but it’s also a breezily preachy lesson aimed right at the heads of black people.

Good Hair hopefully will start the long but necessary process of changing black (and American) ideals of what constitutes sexy, appropriate and beautiful hair.*

*But if you like your hair straight, by all means, more power to you! Weaves and perms are pretty. Knowing the context of that choice, however, is just as important as having the choice in the first place.

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About The Author

Aymar Jean Christian is assistant professor of communication at Northwestern University. He writes about media and society for a number of publications. For more information, click the "About" tab at the top of the page.

4 Comments

  1. realitysurfer October 24, 2009 at 5:03 am

    Please take a moment to check out my documentary film BLACK HAIR

    It is free at youtube. 6 parts including an update from London, England.

    It explores the Korean Take-over of the Black Beauty Supply and Hair biz..

    The current situation makes it hard to believe that Madame C.J. Walker once ran the whole thing.

    I am not a hater, I am a motivator.

    Plus I am a White guy who stumbled upon this, and felt it was so wrong I had to make a film about it.

    self-funded film, made from the heart.

    Can it be taken back?

    Link
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p96aaTSdrAE

  2. Jessica October 24, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    You know, It’s quite interesting that you found “Black Hair” to be preachy or aimed toward black audiences. I actually thought it was meant to school white people on the things that any black person “conscious” enough to spend $10.50 to go see the film would already know. The preachy aspects of the film (“look who owns the business, this stuff is expensive, relaxer is dangerous”) are trite and outdated subjects in the black public sphere. Personally, I believe that Rock was airing black people’s dirty laundry without saying anything new whatsoever. I recognize fully that the film is called “Black Hair” and not “Hair” or “Everybody Has Hair So I’m Gonna Talk About It” but multi-thousand dollar annual weave budgets are not even a black thing anymore.

    Admittedly, as a “happy to be nappy”, loc’d up lady perhaps I know (or have thought) a little more about black hair than your average American. Still, I see Rock’s movie as VERY superficial– unless you’re a conservative white woman– in which case, I’m sure the movie is a great teaching tool (or preaching tool.. sorta).

  3. Aymar Jean Christian October 24, 2009 at 6:38 pm

    I think you actually underestimate how little white people, and even some black men, know about black hair. I’m black, but my mom has shaved hair for years and even when she relaxed it, it’s not really a process I was ever privy to or experienced firsthand. A movie like this is very interesting because it depends a lot on your prior knowledge and experience with the subject.

    Even though he “blames” black people, I think there’s enough in there that indicts larger systems that regulate what is considered beautiful (the mentions of magazines/media). So I’m not sure if he was airing dirty laundry so much as holding up a mirror to something that really hasn’t been considered a “problem.” (I hear much more about black people buying expensive sneakers and/or clothes). Whether or not it is a “problem,” of course depends on whose fault you think it is and what a solution would even look like (a problem with black people? America? The media? Capitalism? Once again, depends…).

  4. Claude Cannuli July 28, 2010 at 8:10 am

    You don’t have to damage your hair using chemical straighteners. Use Kerastase products. I swear by them. They are great. I have unruly curly hair and use Kerastase Shampoo and Conditioner. If you can not afford both, then invest in the conditioner, depending on your hair type. You can use any type of shampoo. Use Sedu hair straightener and Kerastase Oleo hair serum. Works like a miracle and you never have to get a relaxer or chemical straightener again.

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