Good Hair?

Image and video hosting by TinyPicLast night, The New York Times diversity affinity groups (read: the Black and Latino folks at the NYT) sponsored a screening of Chris Rock’s Good Hair, complete with a panel discussion.
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Let me start out with what I liked about the documentary, which Rock and three other men made to purportedly answer his daughter’s question: “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”
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It was funny.
And there was an interesting section on how the “Black hair” business is actually making Asians and Caucasians rich. Oh, and it was fascinating to see how weaves make it from the heads of the devout in Chennai, India, (most get it shaved off as a sacrifice, or “tonsure,” to God; others wake up or stand to leave an “interesting movie” only to find it’s been cut off and sold on the black market) to the heads of the chicks in my Harlem, New York, neighborhood.

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Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me tell you what pissed me off:

for the uninitiated, the takeaway from this movie will read like a punch line from Chris Rock’s nauseatingly misogynistic 2008 HBO special, Kill The Messenger: “Black bitches be crazy!”

As Rock talked to countless celebs about Black women’s hair (Nia Long, Sallie Richardson, Paul Mooney, Eve, Raven Symoné, Ice T, Maya Angelou, Vanessa Bell Calloway, T-Pain, Andre Harrell and many more), he delved deep into what my friend Yani (who was amazing on the panel, BTW) described as “the what” of Black women’s complicated relationship with our hair, while never taking the time to give us “the why.” This movie suffered from a lack of context, and even when the interviewees lobbed the ball and gave them a chance to hit it out of the park, the filmmakers chose to walk to first base instead. For example, when Melyssa Ford said that, to her, good hair means white hair, rather than using it as a segue to talk about how slavery and the subsequent systematic degradation of an entire race has lead to a universal love for the oppressor and their hair that blows in the wind, he went on to show folks acting a monkey at the annual Bronner Brothers hair show in Atlanta. Word?

Hell, he didn’t even get into the simplest of history regarding how we’ve found ways to manipulate our hair. Those of you in the states likely learned about Madam CJ Walker—the first self-made American woman millionaire who made her fortune on the heads of Black women—during Black History Month back in middle school, but you won’t hear about her in this movie (though her great-great-granddaughter A’Lelia Bundles appears as a talking head, again, without context).

And with all the interviews with Black celebs talking about their relaxers and weaves (and men opining about how expensive said relaxers and weaves are, but never talking about how they are complicit in women’s desire for long, straight, sexy hair), women who wear their natural hair texture were nearly absent from the film; actress Tracie Thoms was the token natural hair lady. As a Black woman who got her first “kiddie perm” somewhere around the second grade and recently cut off her short relaxed do and draws actual laughs—laughs!—when she tells people she’s growing an afro (real talk, I want an afro bigger than your daddy’s head), I would’ve liked to have heard more from the other side of the fence: What do the nappyheads think constitutes “good hair”? Why did they opt to step away from the relaxer? How do they feel about other people viewing their hair as a political statement? Or the “Well, I guess you can pull it off” and the “You’re still cute, though” comments? (Back-handed compliment much?)

What exactly would I have learned if I didn’t come to this movie with my own ingrained hair issues? Black women use a sodium hydroxide on their hair, which will eat through an aluminum can in just four hours and can cause lung disease and blindness! Black women have their three-year-old daughters believing that “you’re supposed to get a perm” and other girls at preschool’s hair is prettier than theirs because it “hangs down lower than mine”! Black women put relaxers in their two-year-olds’ hair! Black women spend $3,500 on weaves, but can’t pay their rent! Black women are too high maintenance for Black men because they expect men to pay for their weaves, and then they can’t even touch them!

And, yes, some of these things are sadly true for some Black women; we make poor decisions and pass on the negative hair attitudes that were transmitted through the skin of our own mothers’ knees as we cowered and cried on that yellow plastic Little Tykes chair being told that we had to sit still so our hair would look “pretty.”

And, no, I’m not saying that relaxers and weaves are the devil. We should be able to wear our hair however we want. But we (and by “we,” I mean the collective “we”) have to stop teaching our children that what grows out of their heads is bad, and we (and by “we” I mean “parents”) shouldn’t make potentially dangerous decisions for them before they are old enough to voice an educated opinion.

And, yes, I understand that Chris Rock is a comedian—shit I’ve paid money to see him perform live—but he said he wanted to make a movie to teach his daughters about why their hair isn’t considered “good hair,” and this project is an epic fail in that respect.

And, no, I’m not averse to airing dirty laundry, clearly. I just like some context with my madness; I don’t want folks to walk out of this movie thinking that Black women are crazy without understanding that it’s our society that makes us so, because that doesn’t foster conversation or change. Before we can do something about it, we all need to understand that even our “conditioning has been conditioned.” (Check out this clip from the Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize-winning movie Chameleon Street; always wondered where that “Brown Skin Lady” intro came from, didn’t you? You’re welcome.)

Though Rock says he made this documentary to answer his daughter’s inquiry, for the thoughtful viewer, it raises more questions than it answers.

So do I think you should go see Good Hair? It depends. If you want a good chuckle, sure. But as you’re busting a gut, think about the fact that you’re laughing at a segment of the population (perhaps your own?) that is still sound asleep. It’s time to wake up.

What hair attitudes are you working with? Will you see Good Hair? What do you hope to get from it? Have you seen it already? Give us your take on the movie.

—Kenrya

If you like Kenrya’s opinion, check out the rest of her posts below.

Last 5 posts by kenrya

  • Ricki

    Thanks for the great review! I’ll pass on this flick. The last thing I want to see/support is something feeds into the numerous negative sterotypes about black women.

    Also, anyone who uses the term “good hair” in reference to hair that is something other than clean and combed is ignortant. I think I should start calling these fools out on the spot.

  • how disappointing! i was looking forward to seeing this .. chris could have done so much more with this…

  • Erica

    Good review. This could have been a great movie if it was taken somewhere farther than just “lets laugh at the crazy black chicks”

  • Sahar

    I enjoyed this post. Thanks to Kenrya & my friend for forwarding it to me. I saw the film here in ATL last week and I enjoyed it, (I am natural, rocking the short, low cut). I agree, that I left the theatre wishing there had been more discussion on the the reasons why, and more honest dialogue from some natural women (with kinky, hair like mine). However, I left the theatre wondering more when this tradition of Indian women shaving their heads as a “sacrifice to God” began. hmmmm That guy who ran the shop was blinging Indian style and making millions of dollars with no overhead. Also, I was more upset at the monopoly the Asian community has on products that only we use, and won’t sell products to black owned beauty supplies. I know two black owned beauty supplies stores that confirmed the same thing. And that’s just big city Atlanta. Sad to say they’ll probably be out of business in the next year or so, and Blockbuster Videos will be torn down to be made into Angie’s Beauty Supply…and Angie is a black woman’s name. Sue Yung know her name ain’t Angie…but i digress…

    I believe the reasons why women and four year olds are programmed and conditioned to perm or relax (or apply chemical conditioner as a stylist here in Atlanta corrected me when I called it creamy crack), is obvious. We know the reasons, but we do not care. I suppose seeing Indian women resembling Telly Savalas, “for God” or sodium hydroxide burning through raw chicken flesh in seconds is the first WAKE-UP call that Black women need to realize that they are going through all that pain and money to make others feel “relaxed.” You feel relaxed when others feel relaxed and we feel in this country that natural hair means uptight! Thanks Paul Mooney C’mon…we do have a long way to go, but I commend Chris Rock for approaching it the way he did. If not for the humor would we really listen?

  • ak

    excellent review. the biggest problem sounds like the marketing of this film as a teaching tool.

    this doesn’t sound like a teaching tool at all. it sounds like material for a professor/historian/cultural critic or thorough journalist to use for a real, rigorous study of this issue.

    not saying a comedian can’t do this kind of work. but a comedian who has a visceral dislike for women who look like him is not qualified to handle such a complicated issue. (that damn s-curl doesn’t help either. why didn’t he explore why he, puffy and half of black male hollywood is prancing around with man of distinction up in their naps?)

    i wish we would quit tripping all over ourselves because somebody famous talked about something we see/hear/feel in our own communities every friggin day.

    wish he had just used his loot and influence to do something serious.

  • Tahad

    Tell it like it is my love! As a nation of people who influenced the world with greatest things it has to offer, we have been seriously mentally damaged over the years. We need a serious mental make over. Thanks for the real talk…..

  • elgin

    Nice article!!!

    I’m not sure what purpose adding context would serve.

    I understand that there are issues at play that shape how people feel about their looks and beauty.

    However, I just thought (and was taught…) at some point people matured and dealt with what they were blessed with, or just continued to be unhappy with their natural assets.

    I’m not sure what deeper meaning there is that that.

    I don’t see why hair is so important, I personally have never asked a woman for a piece of hair.

    I just want to be able to walk in the rain once in a while….

  • Tiffany

    I attended last night. I am terribly disappointed in this review and in the panel that followed the movie. I personally thought the movie was good. The movie was not intended to be the history of black hair and therefore things like references of Madame CJ Walker were not necessary. I think you and the panel overreacted. This was an entertaining documentary that exposes some of the truth for some, not all, black women. The facts are the facts: In general, we use the term “good hair”, little girls get perms, we wear weaves, and shocker to no one – sometimes black women ARE high maintenance. I thought the panelists were fake and at times bitter. Rather than addressing our own responsibility in making the decisions we make to conform to society’s view of beauty, they blamed the movie and the “man”. I do not discount the strength of societal pressure but we have to take responsibility for knowing and still choosing to fall to it. One woman started off the panel discussion by saying Chris Rock did not address “why” we do some of the things we do to our hair, but then when she was asked about why she could not swim in Vegas she completely danced around the question. Hypocrisy at the highest level. When the moderator (supposed to be unbiased and not opinionated) was given the question about gay influence on beauty, she said it’s not true and passed on the question. Did she completely miss that gay men rule fashion and style? I was so angry at the panel, I left and this write up made me even more disappointed. The things that Chris pointed out were factual, the “why” they were factual is left up to us to educate people about – not a 1 and half hour entertaining documentary. If someone leaves thinking black women are crazy, well then before you jump on them maybe we should look in the mirror and say the fact that we have a $9B hair care industry that we don’t run to look like people that we are not and never will be – MAYBE, just maybe, we are. My hair is medium length and I love to wear a weave every now and again for the ease. Paying what I pay is stupid. Fortunately, I make the money that it is pennies to me, but I make the stupid choice and I take responsibility for MY stupid choice. Would I recommend it to someone that can’t pay their rent – no, but it is a beauty enhancement like makeup, clothes and shoes that we all indulge in sometimes. Did I walk out hating Chris Rock’s movie because he didn’t delve into my unconscious desire to have hair that can get wet, NO. I walked out saying, dang, he made fun of me. Maybe I should rethink weaves and perms. That simple. No, slavery made me do it. No, black men liking white women with long hair made me do it. Just My responsibility in MY decision and what I AM GOING TO DO ABOUT IT! I can only hope you and the ladies of that panel would do the same or if you wear your hair natural, teach others of us how that’s great. Stop this madness about why Chris Rock didn’t get into your issues and get into your own.

  • George aka your neighbor to the Northeast

    As someone who stays with a ceasar, who am I to tell the young sistas that it isn’t a good look? Join me my nubian sistas, Join me! We can all go to the barber shop, get our fades or have our fros done, then go to whole foods and purchase organic juices and berries to accentuate our natural texture and curly-ishousness. Holllaaaaa!!! Good work K! I support the movement and will wait to see this movie on demand!

  • tina

    Great review! I’m still planning to check it out, eventually. Why didn’t he run this past Brotha Spike Lee first? lol Although it may have fell short on truly delving into the real issues, I hope it will spark more insightful analysis in our communities- this review is a great start at framing the conversation. Love the Black Star knowledge, too- Thank ya!

  • Stephanie

    U R SO ON POINT WITH THIS! We definitely have put way too much emphasis on our hair myself included. Weaves and braids, perms Lye or No-lye, I remember their was a time I did not even know the texture of my natural hair….I am going to check out the movie just to see…

  • SDS

    You’re correct that mothers pass on their opinions of beauty to the daughters, whether they are trying to or not, but white girls don’t like their hair either. The U.S. can be the land of grass-is-always-greener mentality for everyone, and our standards of feminine beauty are unrealistic.

    I’m mixed-race, and got my white mother’s wavy-curls medium-brown “white” hair, which I passed on to my daughter (whose dad is white). She, of course, wants her hair to be the stick-straight texture of the cousin she adores, and complains that, now that her stick-straight-blond best friend has left the school, the other girls always mess with her hair, which they didn’t when the straight blond hair was in class. I, of course, only wanted to fit in as a child of the 1970s, and dreamed of having “bush balls” as was the fashion then.

    I blame the legacy of slavery, not in terms of identification with the oppressor, but more as a demonstration that the oppressor gets to set the standards. As Mel Brooks said “It’s good to be the king.” And the kings here set a lot of standards we are still trying to broaden.

  • Julie

    I understand why black girls trying to straighten their hair, as the natural way perceived as a wrong degree of “Blackness” by our stupid society and it’s rules (which is pretty horrible to begin with, afro should never be a taboo or a statement, in a proving-my-blackness type of way). I think if they choose to straighten their hair, it should be for a right reason—bec they like to change it up a bit, but never to comply with the society’s skewed standards.

    I’m all for natural, no really! Because, by being surrounded by media, and poisoned by its messages of needing to have straight hair and plump lips, or perfect noses, or big boobs, it makes us believe that we all should look one particular way, and this is the standard. If we follow, that will take away our uniquiness, and will make us look way to similar to each other (just look at all the fake noses, lips and boobs in Hollywood, after a while all celebs starting to look the same!!!!)
    I have a friend, who’s a beautiful Haitian woman. When I met her, some 10+ years ago, what i noticed about her was her hair. She had beautiful afro. I loved how natural and unique it looked and how different from all other cookie-cutter black girls’ straight hair (weaves?) it looked. She looked amazing, different in a very good way. Now she has a weave, sadly! She’s still beautiful, but that aspect of her isn’t there anymore…

  • Thai

    When I saw the previews for this movie, I could not wait to see where Rock took this issue. My entire life I have had people refer to my hair as “Good Hair.” As a child it was confusing because I went to an all-white school and to me my best friend with the long blonde hair had “Good Hair.” As I got older I began to resent when people said that. It always leads to “What are you mixed with?” NOTHING! I’m black! The ignorance was unbearable. It was like people could not imagine a dark skin girl having curly hair! And still I wanted the black girl hair that held styles, that was “Good Hair.” As an adult, I know that “Good Hair” is a ghost term. There is no such thing as “Good Hair.” If you must define it, roll with “healthy” as the best definition.

    I am still going to see the movie, keeping in mind it is just a surface documentary.

  • Prof. Houston

    I saw this movie a few weeks ago and I don’t agree with your review. Chris Rock did exactly what I think a comedian should do: expose the foolishness. I recommended this movie to a nubmer of my family and friends because sometimes people don’t realize how “conditioned” they are until someone else holds the mirror. As a woman who wears her hair natural, I reflected back on my “chemical days” and am quite happy that I’m not attempting to live by someone else’s definition of beauty. This movie starts the conversation. I don’t think it needed to go deeper. We’re teaching our young ladies that wearing your hair naturally isn’t “put together”. We have our young babies believing that they should get a perm just because. We’re doing this at this point. We have decisions to be made as consumers, parents, friends, and loved ones. We can either continue to blame society for all of our ills and woes or we can stop supporting a system that robs us of our money and self esteem. Can we create a documentary that really looks into the relationship with our hair? Yes, we can. Maybe someone who watches this movie will be inspired to do so.

  • Joy

    I don’t agree with your review. I also think that comment about monkeys is degrading yourself and tells your reading audience what type of personality you have. How do you call one of your people monkeys during a stage performance? Disgusting!

    In addition, the movie was thought provoking it led to conversations at my job among natural hair black women, relaxed hair black women, chinese with curly perms, and much much more. Conversations were sparked on the question of the tradition of donating the hair…did it precede the hair business or not? It was stimulating.

    Chris Rock did a good job at what he did. If you were not satisfied with the movie, it would be best to to create a doc to answer the questions that you don’t think he reached or what you wanted to hear or think others should hear.

  • @Joy: I’m so glad the movie sparked a convo for you and your colleagues, much as it did for me and mine, hence the article. I welcome opinions that differ from mine, and I appreciate you for taking the time to read this post and leave a comment. But anyone who reads Politrix regularly knows that I wasn’t actually calling Black/my folks monkeys. It’s an expression that I’ve applied to every kind of person under the sun who has showed their tails (and it didn’t just include the Black folks at that show, incidentally), and I’m sorry that you interpreted that as talking bad about my people. I’m not capable of degrading myself, only telling the truth as I see it. The lovely thing is, we can agree to disagree. Be well!

  • Leilani

    As Chris Rock tells it, he named the movie “Good Hair” because his daughter came to him with that term. That’s the term that black women hear all the time. So Ricki, don’t feel like he’s using it because that’s what he believes. Like Kenrya, I thought Chris was going to go deeper into the discussion, so I’m a little disappointed.

    What really shocked me is that Whoopie and Sherri on “The View” said they didn’t get relaxers because they were trying to look “White”, but because relaxers make black hair easier to maintain. I know for sure that I got a relaxer because my grandmother told my mom as a child that she wasn’t allowed to take her hair out of braids until she got a relaxer. My grandmother had straight hair, while my mom took after her father with curly hair. There was definitely some, you don’t have good hair/ “White”/ straight hair thoughts behind that. Thus, Whoopie and Sherri are in denial about the black woman psyche. Granted, my grandmother was 1/2 black and at least 1/3 white, so maybe her psyche is different than the average Black woman.

  • Leilani

    Oh yeah, I’ve been free from perms for 7 years. I never really needed one because it never did anything to straighten my hair. It was all a facade.

  • Vivian

    Good points. I’ve been thinking the same thing myself. I haven’t seen it and I’m not sure if I really want to. I’ll get into that reason in a second. My problem with this movie is that everyone is talking about the relaxer portion as if as soon as the cream touches your scalp, it begins to burn and you just sit there in anguish. That’s not true. I guess I’d be more excited/annoyed if women didn’t do so many other things that seem crazier. Hello, bikini wax anyone?
    BTW, I’ve been mad at Chris Rock since he went on Leno and said that foolishness about dogs being white man’s friend. WTF?

  • V

    SUCH A BETRAYAL! CHRIS ROCK I HATE YOU! NEVER WILL I HEAR YOUR VOICE AND SMILE AGAIN!!!!

  • GOD MY MIND HURTS, CAN YOU HELP ME!

    IN TODAY’S SOCIETY THERE’S NO NEED TO LOOK OUT FOR THE KKK, RACIST HAVE GOTTEN SMARTER AND MORE CLEVER. ALL THAT HAS TO BE DONE NOW IS TO PAY A FEW MODERN DAY JUDAS! JUST A HAND FULL TO BREAK DOWN THE REST!! NO NEED TO BURN CROSSES ANYMORE! FROM OUR BLACK MEN THERE IS A SUBJECT THAT IS TABO, WHAT IS FOUND IS BETRAYAL! FROM OUR BROTHERS THAT PLAY BASKETBALL, SOME RAPPERS, COMEDIANS MOST OF BLACK ENTERTAINMENT HAS ENLARGE INTO THIS GREAT BIG POOL OF HATE FOR BLACK WOMEN. WHAT MAKES ME CRY IS THAT OUR OWN MEN HAVE BETRAYED US! NOW I AM ONE TO BELIEVE YOU CAN DATE OUT YOUR RACE IF YOU WISH, BUT WHEN YOU BECOME A POSTER CHILD AGAINST BLACK WOMEN FOR THE WORLD TO SEE IS WHAT BREAKS MY HEART. SO WHAT’S TO DO MY SISTER’S AND BROTHERS LET’S KEEP PRAYING THAT OUR CHILDREN WILL BE LOVED BY GOD AND PROTECTED BY HIS LOVE UNTIL WE FET IT TOGETHER! MY HEART IS HURTING, WHY IS SO UNNECESSARY, BUT IT IS REAL!

  • @ leilani: whoopie and sherri don’t speak for all black woman. no-one does. their experiences are their own. so why would you assume that since their experience is different than your mother’s or yours that they are in denial? i do believe the reason they gave for getting a perm though. i knew a whole slew of girls that got a vigorole which was reportedly milder than a real perm (think texturizer) so their hair would be more manageable. i also knew and know a lot of girls that put mayonnaise in their hair to make it more lustrous and shiny. should they be accused of trying to be white or asian? because we all know that black girls’ hair can’t be anything other than dusty brown and nappy? (that was sarcasm) or what about the white girls that got/get perms to give their hair “body”? should they be accused of trying to be black or at least some kind of ethnic?

    my hair was natural until i turned 17 and decided that i wanted my hair to look like most of my friends. when i was little, i got a press and curl on occasion but mostly, i wore my hair in all kinds of twists, braids, huge riley afro-puffs (pompadoos, as i called them) with my bangs pinned with bobby pins so they didn’t unroll. my hair was healthy. i was a happy little black girl and i couldn’t be white, even if i tried. my hair, like my clothes, went through changes as i evolved and grew. my afro and twists didn’t make me any more black or righteous and my perm didn’t make me any less black.

    one last thing, i haven’t seen this movie yet (and i don’t know if i will) but i think that it’s ironic that black women’s psyches/hair are being called into question by the black male comedian that rocked an s-curl/texturizer.

  • hi i want good stuff and halthy to make my hair strong shaiine longr i leave in egypt and i have hard dark hair