“Good Hair” is good, thought-provoking fun

Chris Rock takes narrow subject matter (hair), and weaves it into surprising revelations.

PHOTO COURTESY HBO FILMS

PHOTO COURTESY HBO FILMS

Jay Boller

âÄúGood HairâÄù DIRECTED BY: Jeff Stilson STARRING: Chris Rock RATED: PG-13 SHOWING: Area theaters In any other hands, âÄúGood Hair,âÄù the light yet compelling new Chris Rock documentary, would be really, really difficult to pull off. Releasing 95-minute documentaries to a âÄúCouples RetreatâÄù- craving public is dicey enough, and when that documentary is entirely based on one minority group’s dealings with their hair? Even riskier. Thankfully for âÄúGood HairâÄù âÄî a film that fits just that description âÄî Chris Rock is on board. Rock is very much himself, far from the over-the-top Rock of standup fame, but he proves charming, funny, affable and the perfect host to guide viewers through the surprisingly tangled, culturally revealing and expensive world of black women’s hair. In the beginning of the film, Rock’s 5-year-old daughter Lola asks, in tears, âÄúDaddy, why don’t I have good hair?âÄù And that poses the thesis of the film: Why are Black women societally conditioned at such a young age to be ashamed of their natural, nappy hair? Rock uses the rest of the film talking with celebrities (Paul Mooney , Ice-T , Raven-Symoné ) visiting salons and barbershops, profiling competition hair dressers, traveling as far away as India and even grilling poet/national treasure Maya Angelou on the intricacies of âÄúblack hairâÄù âÄî a $9 billion industry, Rock claims. Given a relatively narrow scope, âÄúGood HairâÄù excels in exploring just about every facet of the subject. The harsh hair product known as relaxer (or âÄúcreamy crack,âÄù as itâÄôs dubbed by some women) is featured, the trade of human hair from India that results in $1,000 weaves for blacks is touched on and the notion that the businesses that cater to black hair care âÄúneedsâÄù are almost exclusively white and Asian owned, according to the documentary. âÄúGood HairâÄù keeps things interesting throughout and Rock’s very natural, human interactions in barbershops, salons, Indian temples and labs ring both funny and true. The film gets mired too long in a very theatrical competitive hair design contest that comes off underwhelming, but manages to inform, entertain and remain surprisingly objective. The balancing of message vs. entertainment is tread expertly in âÄúGood Hair.âÄù Music executive Andre Harrell steals a huge laugh when he answers the age-old question of whether or not to touch a black woman’s hair during sex. His answer? âÄúKeep your hands on the titties,âÄù spoken in perfect deadpan. The female celebrities, though, almost come off embarrassed as Rock probes. They nervously laugh at seeming absurdities like putting sodium chloride on one’s scalp and spending thousands on someone else’s hair, but Rock’s questioning is never judgmental. Such is the tone of the film. It flirts with condemnation of the identity dodging and priority mixing associated with such an emphasis on turning one’s hair âÄúwhite,âÄù but allows the viewer to reach their own conclusion by also providing that âÄúwhatever makes you happyâÄù angle. âÄúGood HairâÄù is a fascinating ride. Non-black viewers will get a voyeuristic thrill with a peek into a world many know nothing about. Black viewers will relate and question. But the glue that holds this very digestible piece together is Chris Rock âÄî and all audiences will appreciate his genuine intrigue and comedic riffing. Moreover, most audiences, at least at some point, have hair. And while âÄúGood HairâÄôsâÄù focus may seem niche, delving deep into the universalities of our world is always an engaging trip.