Roots & Rebellions: Chris Rock’s ‘Good Hair’

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By Troy Jeffrey Allen

Is it just me or has there been an increased interest in the inner-workings of the African-American community…say since January 21st of 2009? Well, black IS the new black and Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair is at the root of the media’s growing obsession.

Rock’s documentary brings him to the Brooner Brothers annual hair show in Atlanta, Georgia. The fabulous hair-off raises questions about why women substitute their natural mane for extensions and weaves. The documentary supplements the Atlanta competition with Rock pushing forward on the origin of hair extensions. In between, we get revealing interviews with a range of black female celebrities, from video vixen Meagan Good to national treasure Maya Angelou.

By the time the film arrives in India, Rock begins to unravel the wicked web of weaves, describing the religious process that demands Indian women of all ages to crop their hair. The belief is that their shaved locks will begin its’ ascension on the stairway to heaven. Instead, it ends up in Crenshaw, selling anywhere from $1,000 to $3,500.

Since the wide release of Good Hair, there has been a collective teeth-sucking, a swell of disapproval, specifically, from women in the black community. From online message boards to daytime television, Good Hair has been labeled an attack on the black female, and has been accused of exposing aspects of the culture that should remain secret. But is there really any secret? Of course not. For anyone who has walked into a CVS and seen hair extensions for a $1.99 there is no secret, just passive-aggressive mockery.  The unfortunate truth of the matter is that the controversy the film has elicited has raised a greater issue in the black community, and that is the issue of cultural denial.

The very notion that Good Hair is revealing trade secrets proves that Chris Rock’s joke is on us. It reminds me of a similar situation with Dr. Bill Cosby. In 2004, at a commemoration for Brown v. Board of Education, Cosby criticized the black community for not valuing education, their disinterest in black history, and their abuse of the English language (among other things). Heathcliff came under fire for putting the black culture’s shortcomings into the public eye. While, Cosby’s rant (and it was a rant) was more entertaining than helpful, the attitude that these things cannot be said in public is troubling. It also shows that we as a culture still assume the role of the silenced slave, even when it isn’t coming from the outside.

It would have been easy for the documentary to state flat out that natural hair is the best way to be; instead, Chris Rock lets women speak on the subject. The film’s opinions come from an array of black women and, not surprisingly, they all seem to know something is wrong with it.  Yes, beauty is only skin deep. However, a documentary like Good Hair tackles at a 21st century reality: augmenting your features to appear more acceptable (surgically or with hair extensions) has become the norm.

Directed by Jeff Stilson; Written by Chris Rock, Paul Marchand, Chuck Sklar, Lance Crouther, and Jeff Stilson.