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DVD Review: Good Hair

In Good Hair, Chris Rock sets out to examine the relationship that African-American women have with their hair. His inquiry began, he explains, when one of his young daughters asked him: “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?”

Rock’s resulting documentary, which arrived on DVD this week, seeks answers to the culture of hair from a father’s perspective. He refers back to his little girls throughout the film, which effectively anchors the narrative while buoying Good Hair with both paternal and intellectual motivation. As Rock discovers some of the less savory aspects of African-American hair culture — from the dangers of relaxer creams to the dearth of Black-owned hair businesses — there’s no judgment, just observation.

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The comedian’s mission takes him to places from Atlanta to Harlem and India to Los Angeles, but it’s the diversity of interviews and personalities that make Good Hair so rich and engaging. Throughout the film, Rock talks to hair dressers, barbers, actresses, high school students, academics, and luminaries like Al Sharpton, Maya Angelou, KRS-One and T-Pain. His interviews and encounters are woven together so that we see a real array of perspectives, relationships and stories that all take the same arc of discovery. As a four-year-old gets her first perm treatment at the salon, Angelou reveals that she also just got her hair relaxed for the first time. As Raven-Symoné considers where her weave comes from, we meet a man in Beverly Hills who buys the pieces for his high-profile clients.

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Among Good Hair’s jokes and generally light-hearted nature is also an undeniable thread of sadness, which executive producer Nelson George points out in the DVD commentary. One of the film’s essential messages is that African-American hair culture eschews its own natural attributes in favor of European-style hair that’s straight and shiny and swishes in the wind. Rock pursues a variety of avenues and lines of questioning to underscore this point, including trying to sell African-American hair pieces to weave stores — only to be told that no one wants kinky hair.

But Rock’s stunt isn’t just a knee-jerk ploy to make an easy statement. To get to the root of the weave industry (no pun intended), he travels across America and eventually to India, where homegrown hair is one of the country’s biggest exports. At a temple there, he takes us to a ceremony in which worshippers shave their heads as an offering to God. The act not only provides the multi-million dollar weave biz with its core product, but also illustrates a stark contrast in cultural attitudes.

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Good Hair, though, is essentially a warm-hearted, funny film steeped in a lot of information. Rock is a sharp inquisitor who’s not afraid to poke a little fun, but he approaches the subject of African-American women’s relationships with their hair with innocence and respect, as he strives to reveal how hair fits in to a woman’s respect for herself.

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