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.