The credits for Good Hair list more than four bodyguards for narrator and producer Chris Rock in his investigation of the lengths black women will go to for a perfect ‘do'. Rock wreaks havoc in barbershops and beauty salons by talking about the taboo subjects of weaves, relaxers and the Indian hair market – ultimately revealing the self-esteem and racial inequities that fuel this multi-million dollar industry. Perhaps he needs a little protection.
Near the beginning of the documentary a startling statistic is quoted: that black people make up 12% of the U.S. population but buy 80% of the hair products. Rock was troubled by his young daughter’s longing for ‘good hair’, and set out to make a film about the extraordinary amount of money and energy spent to transform black women’s ‘natural’ locks into a style more socially acceptable. He interviews actors, stylists and revolutionaries on the subject, often shaking his head at their responses. It seems that everyone from rapper Eve to poet Maya Angelou has used a little synthetic product in their coiffure.
Directed by Jeff Stilson, Good Hair presents a complicated argument; well aware of the legacy it is tackling. Mostly Rock seems to enjoy asking the tough questions, and he does not shy away from exposing how harebrained some practices seem. Like the ‘kiddy perm’ often used on three-year-old girls to relax their hair that contains sodium hydroxide and can result in severe chemical burns. Or the $1000 weaves purchased by women who cannot afford to pay their rent. Rock comments there are no hairclosures but there are foreclosures – raising the very valid point that one should be able to claim their weave-expenses as investments on their income tax.
Taking a humourous approach to this surprisingly tough topic, Rock and his filmmaking team ultimately create a thoughtful and enlightening film. I saw Rock on Oprah the other day, sitting next to a recently shaved Solange Knowles who wanted to free herself from the oppression of her locks. Perhaps he has begun a revolution. Good Hair ends with the message that women should do what they need to feel good about themselves, but it is mostly the men of the film that seem willing to sacrifice costly hair expenses in favor of going au natural. The women who share their hair secrets with Rock are proud of their style, and dedicated to continuing to do whatever it takes to have the kind of hair they dream about.
ACMI Long Play presents
Directed by Jeff Stilson
Venue: Australian Centre for the Moving Image | Federation Square, Melbourne
Dates: 2 - 18 April, 2010
Times: see ACMI website for details
Duration: 95 minutes
Tickets: Full $14, Concession $11
Bookings: 03 8663 2583 | acmi.net.au | at the door