It's hardly a secret that women will go to great lengths and incur great debt in their quest for beauty. In the case of many black women -- or so we're reminded in Chris Rock's funny and insightful Good Hair -- hair straightening is a major expenditure within the black community. Rock, who can be sharply funny, says he got the inspiration for his documentary when one of his daughter's asked why she didn't have good hair.
Motivated by the knowledge that "good" hair too often means straight or fine hair, Rock decided to take a camera and look into the issue. His effort results in lively conversations with a wide range of folks -- from Maya Angelou and Al Sharpton to actresses Nia Long and Kerry Washington. Rock also introduces a variety of processes and products -- from hair straightening to hair extensions, and he wryly points out the expense involved. At one point, Rock learns that a teacher -- not among the highest paid of professionals -- is willing to spend $1,000 for hair extensions. Hey, she got off cheap; some women reportedly shell out as much as $4,000.
Rock clearly thinks that devotion to what might be deemed mainstream -- make that white" standards of beauty is crazy, but he finds plenty of humor in his hair affair. He also does a bit of traveling, visiting Dudley Products in Greensboro, N.C. and the Bonner Bros. International Hair Show in Atlanta, a convention-like affair that boasts a contest in which hairdressers compete to see who can whip up the most creative hairdo. Rock even travels to India where human hair is collected for use in weaves.
It's difficult to listen to a researcher talk about the potency of hair straightening products without wondering why women would put themselves through the torture of using a substance that has industrial strength potency, but the movie understands that when "beauty" is involved, no amount of suffering is too extreme -- at least for some women. Besides, attempts to alter a look can be addictive; one woman refers to her hair-straightening products as "creamy crack."
Good Hair has two impressive things going for it: Rock, who's one of the funniest comics in the business and a subject that proves both fascinating and revealing. Good Hair leaves us marveling at how crazy things can get when it comes to what grows on women's heads, and it encourages us to think about the values inside those heads -- and how they may have gotten there in the first place.