By Scott Weinberg. Reprinted from Sundance Film Festival, 2009
I now know more about black womens' hair than any middle-class Jewish guy ever has.
The lessons come connected to a new documentary called Good Hair, which was produced by Chris Rock for HBO Films. And once again, my attendance at a film festival has compelled me to watch a documentary that, otherwise, I'd have little to no interest in -- but I walked out 90 minutes later rather well-informed on a topic that, under normal circumstances, I'd never have a reason to care about.
I'm not a hairdresser, I'm not all that interested in fashion, and I'm certainly not a black woman ... so what would a film like Good Hair have to offer? Well, I think it's always cool to learn a little something about other cultures, and when I heard what Good Hair was actually about, I started thinking ... hey, yeah, this could actually be pretty interesting! It certainly doesn't hurt that Chris Rock is along for the ride, as the comedian is as sharp and amusing as ever, but what the flick taught me is that, well, the way one wears their hair is of particular importance to women ... and there are some issues that are very specific to black women.
Rock starts off by offering a few ideas on WHY women go to such elaborate lengths to control their hair (even if he leaves some of the cultural reasons out of the equation), but then we're treated to a jaunt across the country as Rock delves into the industry of A) "relaxer," B) "weaves," and C) the billion-dollar industry that keeps the products flowing. Heck, Rock even takes a trip to India (in one of the film's more fascinating diversions) to see where all that "weave hair" comes from.
Packed with great interviews (Al Sharpton is particularly sharp, Ice-T is very funny, and the actresses that Rock interviews are all refreshingly forthcoming about the problems inherent in "black hair") and a light-yet-respectful tone, Good Hair is a well-crafted and consistently entertaining piece of "human interest" documentary filmmaking -- although the filmmakers spend perhaps a little too much time on a big stylists' competition that's not really all that interesting in comparison to the interview segments and the barbershop / hair salon conversations.
As usual, Chris Rock promotes discussion on a minor-yet-interesting cultural issue without pandering to his subjects or talking down to his audience. His banter with normal folks is entirely refreshing: He asks firm questions, he shows respect, and (of course) he cracks quick-witted jokes. I suspect that the subject matter would still be fairly interesting without Rock's involvement, but the comedian brings a accessibility to the material that no amount of facts and figures can replace.
And frankly this colorful little documentary has given me a newfound respect for black women. I had no idea how much effort a nice head of hair requires. (Probably because I'm white, male, lazy, and mostly bald.)