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Vol. LXIII, No. 43
Wednesday, October 28, 2009
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For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

HOLD STILL SO I DON’T HURT YOU: Chris Rock, right, looks on as a beautician applies “creamy crack” to a young girl’s hair in order to straighten out her hair.

Good Hair: Chris Rock Takes Lighthearted Look at Black Women’s ’Dos

Kam Williams

If you were raised in an African-American community, then you’re probably familiar with the notion of “good hair,” a term that’s generally applied to folks born with wavy locks which are less trouble to take care of than the more tightly-curled or nappy variety. Back in the sixties, at the dawn of the black pride movement, the afro was embraced as an alternative to adhering to the white standard of beauty associated with straight hair. But that was a short-lived fad which unfortunately has pretty much gone the way of the dashiki and the dinosaur.

Over the years, African American hair care has blossomed into a multibillion-dollar industry that attempts to give black women straight and silky tresses by using a variety of techniques ranging from hot combs and relaxers to wigs and weaves. Regardless of the combination picked, straight hair comes at a considerable cost, not merely financially, but also in terms of one’s time, and mental and physical health.

For these reasons, Chris Rock was dismayed when his 5-year-old daughter, Lola, asked, “Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?” Concerned that she might already be struggling with a sensitive self-esteem issue at such a young age, he decided to do some serious research in order to answer her question.

So, accompanied by a camera crew, he embarked on an inquiry into the black hair care business. He conducted probing, and often comical, interviews at beauty salons, barber shops, conventions, factories, and scientific laboratories all across the U.S. and overseas. The result is Good Hair, an informative and thought provoking documentary featuring Chris Rock in a Michael Moore-like role as a witty — but never mean spirited — investigator.

The usually acerbic comedian wisely tones down his irreverence in order to ingratiate himself with his subjects, that includes actresses Nia Long, Meagan Good, Raven-Symoné, and Lauren London, who willingly share with him the details of their daily hair regimen. We learn that they rely mostly on weaves, which range in price from $1,000 to $3,500, not to mention the cost of installation and regular maintenance. While that may be affordable for a celebrity, it is a different story for working women who, at a beauty parlor, admit to purchasing their extensions on a lay-a-way plan. Then we hear the husbands’ complaints about having to choose between paying the rent or the salon bill. To add insult to injury, the men are not even allowed to run their fingers through their wives’ hair.

However, the most alarming aspect of this exposé involves the widespread use of sodium hydroxide, aka lye, to straighten hair. This strong chemical is the active ingredient (used in a 5-10% concentration) in “creamy crack,” the slang term used to refer to all so-called relaxers. Unfortunately, sodium hydroxide can cause burns to the skin that can cause scarring, or blindness if it comes in contact with human tissue in solutions that contain greater than a 2% concentration of the chemical compound. Therefore, it is not surprising that many users have scars, scabs, and/or bald spots on their scalps. Sandra “Pepa” Denton of the hip-hop duo Salt-N-Pepa, tells how she tried to turn her own chemical accident into a fashion statement by shaving the side of her head that had been burned by creamy crack.

Equally intriguing are the scenes shot in India where people have no idea that the hair they routinely sacrifice in a religious ceremony called Tonsure is scooped up, cleaned, and sold to exporters.

Back in the States, Chris Rock returns to focus on exactly who’s profiting from the African-Americans’ reluctance to accept their kinky hair. He concludes that it’s a sign of “economic retardation” to allow Koreans to corner the hair care market in the black community.

However, that assessment may not be as important as what he tells his young daughters, namely, “that the stuff on top of their heads is nowhere near as important as the stuff inside their heads.”

One of those rare movies where you have to laugh in order to keep from crying.

Excellent (4 stars). Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality, drug references and partial nudity. Running time: 95 minutes. Studio: HBO Films. Distributor: Roadside Attractions.

For more movie summaries, see Kam’s Kapsules.

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