Yesterday I attended a special screening of Chris Rock’s docu-film Good Hair, at The Ritzy cinema in Brixton, South London. The evening also featured a should-have-been-much-longer Q&A session with Mr Rock himself.
This film is practically old news in the U.S., as it has been out since at least October 2009, but I guess we should be thankful for small mercies. It looks at what black/African American women go through to achieve their desired hairstyles, and was prompted by Chris’ young daughter walking into the house one day and asking him, “Daddy how come I don’t have good hair?”
I really enjoyed this movie. It is funny, entertaining and informative, and features appearances from Nia Long, Raven Symone, Salt N Pepa, Ice-T, KRS-One, Eve, Maya Angelou, Reverend Al Sharpton, Melyssa Ford, Andre Harrell and Lauren London among others. He looks at the most popular ways in which most black women choose carry their hair, predominantly relaxed or weaved. With relaxer we learn its scientific name – Sodium Hydroxide. That just sounds scary. Imagine having a conversation with your friend: “Hey, what are you up to on Saturday?” “Oh I’m just going to the salon to put Sodium Hydroxide in my hair.” And for those of you who don’t already know, yes it is as painful as it sounds. We are even shown the damage that the chemicals in a relaxer do to a soda can. After some hours the can is transparent, and after a day it is completely burnt off. We also saw Chris visit the site of the Dudley’s – a black owned company in North Carolina who provide hair products for the black community (one of very few hair companies in America that are black owned), and we watched the process of relaxer, aka, The Creamy Crack, being made.
I think the saddest moments of the film are hearing that a woman once approached a hair stylist asking what relaxer she can use on her 18-month old daughter, because she doesn’t want to deal with her hair. Chris also chats to another woman who is at a salon getting her 6 year old grand-daughter’s hair relaxed, a little girl who doesn’t enjoy having her hair relaxed, but advises Chris that his daughter should also have hers done because “you’re supposed to.” Dear oh dear…
On the subject of weaves and hair extensions, Chris visits Chennai in India, one source of human hair extensions. Women there are sacrificing their hair to their God, not knowing that it’s rather being used to make someone else rich. We see hair being sorted, cleaned and added to wefts, ready to be shipped around the world. To me, seeing the hair being willingly given up kind of reduced any feeling of guilt I may have as someone who wears hair extensions, but we are also told that sometimes women’s hair is ‘stolen’ while they sleep, or cut off without their knowledge while they watch a film at the cinema. Imagine the cheek!
Throughout the film we see preparations being made for the Bonner Brothers hair show, which was basically more about ‘show’ and less about hair.
Funny moments come courtesy of the featured celebs. Some such as:
Paul Mooney – “If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If it’s nappy, they’re not happy.”
Eve (on her hair extensions) – “This hair is 100% human hair and it’s even been prayed over” (Does that make it Halal hair Eve?)
Chris: How old were you when you first got your relaxer?
Maya Angelou: Oh god, I was about seventy.
Chris: Seventy? You went your whole life…
Maya Angelou: Not my whole life, I’m still alive!
The Question and Answer session lasted all of about 15-20 minutes, and that’s only because some people forced their opportunity to get their question heard. I think the organisers should have had a bit more compassion for this ‘special’ event. Nonetheless, Chris answered with honesty, bearing in mind he’s not a hair specialist, just someone who made a film out of curiosity. My favourite moment was when a lady at the back of the room asked why he didn’t make the film focus on the positive hairstyles, like those who ‘locs’ (natural dreadlocks) their hair, and Chris said he didn’t have any questions about that, he respects and admires those hairstyles. “It would be like making a film about someone who doesn’t drink,” he said. Agreed!