Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dispatches from Nappyville: Be very afraid--Chris Rock takes on "Good Hair"


Regular readers of this blog know that Chris Rock, once one of my favorite comedians, is on my shit list for the growing misogyny in his stand-up act. That's why I'm a little nervous about Rock's latest project: "Good Hair," a documentary about the business of black hair. Rock weighs the pressure to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards; the personal economics of caring for black hair; the role of countries, such as India, in supplying hair that will be weaved onto heads of black women from Brooklyn to Oakland; and the spectacle of black hair shows like the annual Bronner Bros. International Hair Show.

"Good Hair" sounds like a lot of fun and like a film that is long past due. Buuutttt...I know I'll be cringing in my seat when I see this, waiting for the demonization of nappyness that I fear will be all over it. According to an interview on Salon, "Rock conducts frank, funny and sometimes startling interviews with superbly coiffed black celebrities from Maya Angelou and the Rev. Al Sharpton to Ice-T, Salt-n-Pepa, Nia Long and Raven-Symoné." Hmmm...not a nappy head in the bunch. Al Sharpton? Really? But I'll reserve my judgement on "Good Hair" until I see it.

In the Salon interview, Rock reveals that he was inspired to make "Good Hair" when his daughter Lola came in from playing outside and asked, "Daddy, why don't I have 'good' hair?" Here are some other excerpts from the interview

I saw it the other night with a predominantly white audience and they
were laughing, and learning stuff, reacting ... Speaking as a, you know,
middle-class white guy for all the other middle-class white guys out there, I learned a helluva lot from this movie. I knew that hair weaves existed and obviously I've been in the RiteAid in New York City and I've seen ... that entire aisle full of hair relaxers, but I didn't know what a huge scene it was.

By the way, I didn't know. I mean, the initial idea was just to shoot the hair show, and cover the hairdressers, and kind of make like a "Hoop Dreams" of hair. But the more we shot, the more other things popped up.

...

It kind of blew my mind, the idea that in an African-American household you got this Porsche that nobody can see, these working-class and middle-class black women spending thousands of dollars, or their husbands and boyfriends spending thousands of dollars ... buying a Porche that nobody sees. There is a whole economic realm to this that I didn't know about at all.

It creates a wedge, actually.

...

So somebody's hair salon in a black neighborhood in Little Rock -- probably their hair weave is coming from L.A. and India. That's amazing ... You know, one of the things that struck me is that if somebody had made this film in the '70s it might have been, you know, a bit more a call to arms -- nationalism, we can't have this.

You know, we have that cut of it, and it just wasn't that entertaining. I mean, it's still my job at the end of the day to make people laugh. Other documentarians, they have other responsibilities. My responsibility is to make people laugh. So, yeah, that cut of the movie exists but it is not as fun to watch as this cut.

Read the whole thing or listen to the audio here.


Image of model at a Bronner Bros. show courtesy of SirenoftheNile on Flickr.

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