Gen­er­ous ‘Hair’ cut above stri­dent doc­u­men­taries

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss

bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

Un­like most doc­u­men­taries with a mes­sage, “Good Hair” — Chris Rock’s amus­ing ex­am­i­na­tion of African-Amer­i­can hair cul­ture — in­vites movie­go­ers to a con­ver­sa­tion, not a lec­ture.

“Food, Inc.,” for ex­am­ple, tells us to de­mand lo­cally grown pro­duce. “Sicko” urges us to sup­port fed­eral health care re­form. “An In­con­ve­nient Truth” wants us to switch to en­ergy-ef­fi­cient light bulbs.

“Good Hair,” in com­par­i­son, warns against the perils of chem­i­cal re­laxer (“the creamy crack,” the film calls it); chides work­ing women for spending thou­sands of dol­lars on weaves; and charges that “hands off the hair” man­dates have de­creased in­ti­macy be­tween black men and black women.

And then the film lets its tar­get au­di­ence off the hook by con­clud­ing that, hey, it’s not what’s on the head but what’s un­der it that counts; so if you want to spend the rent money on a knit­ted net of hu­man hair culled from a tem­ple floor af­ter a Hindu shav­ing rit­ual in In­dia, spend away, ladies, spend away!

One ex­pects less ac­com­mo­da­tion from Rock, the film’s typ­i­cally truth-telling host/nar­ra­tor and ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer; one hopes for a stronger en­dorse­ment of the “nat­u­ral” look from a film that op­er­ates, in part, as an ex­posé of the mostly white - owned multi­bil­lion-dol­lar black hair-care in­dus­try. Af­ter all, the movie was mo­ti­vated, Rock tells us, by the plain­tive ques­tion of his own young daugh­ter: “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?”

On the other hand, the film’s gen­eros­ity may be its se­cret weapon in the bat­tle to raise the con­scious­ness of those who think straight Euro­pean hair is more at­trac­tive than “nappy” African hair. Michael Moore movies pretty much preach to the con­verted; “Good Hair” — a film about a topic of uni­ver­sal in­ter­est, even ob­ses­sion, among women — should reach a large main­stream au­di­ence that is seek­ing com­edy more than en­light­en­ment. What viewer won’t wince when he or she sees that sodium hy­drox­ide, the ac­tive in­gre­di­ent in hair re­laxer (“the clos­est thing we have to a nap an­ti­dote,” Rock says), can dis­solve an alu­minum can in a few hours?

Poorly pho­tographed on dig­i­tal video that looks no bet­ter than what you’d see on a lo­cal TV news broad­cast, “Good Hair” in­ter­cuts a fa­mil­iar trav­el­ogue for­mat with an even more fa­mil­iar “com­pe­ti­tion” sce­nario, as Rock and di­rec­tor Jeff Stil­son visit sa­lons, bar­ber­shops, a weave fac­tory in In­dia and other hairy lo­cales while oc­ca­sion­ally check­ing back with the com­bat­ants pre­par­ing for a glitzy styling con­test at a na­tional black hair con­ven­tion in At­lanta (the place “where all ma­jor black de­ci­sions are made,” Rock says).

Rock in­ter­views such celebri­ties as Nia Long, Raven-Sy­moné, Ice-T, the Rev. Al Sharp­ton and Maya An­gelou, who dis­cuss their hair ex­pe­ri­ences and pref­er­ences. Tellingly, al­most all the ac­tresses — who make a ca­reer out of be­ing at­trac­tive — have straight­ened hair. Rock catches the stars in some em­bar­rass­ing ad­mis­sions, but he’s no Bo­rat; “Good Hair” lets ev­ery­body have a good time, on­screen and off.

Road­side At­trac­tions

Chris Rock (right) tries to raise con­scious­ness without stoop­ing to preach­i­ness.

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