It all started with a little girl. When five-year-old Lola Rock asked her father, Chris, why she didn’t have “good hair,” it sent a powerful message to the comedian. Curious about the business of the black hair, Rock and a camera crew traveled around the globe to discover why so many African-American women endure a daily battle with their head, tolerating chemicals and weaves to perfect a look that goes against nature’s stubborn intention.
“Good Hair” is Rock’s first documentary, and while extraordinarily informative, it’s more of a comedy piece than something newsworthy. Looking to peek behind the curtain of the billion-dollar black hair industry, Rock is curious to find out why so many women suffer financial hardship and outright pain to alter their appearance, starting his journey in a place “where all major black decisions are made, Atlanta.” Crashing the massive floor of the Bronner Brothers Hair Show, “Good Hair” opens with an astonishing look at the lucrative hair care business, where thousands flock to hock and demonstrate their products. While the bustle is compelling, the centerpiece of the show is a fierce competition where stylists not only show off their way of the curl, but also their ability to put on a Vegas-like show (watch hair cut upside down or underwater!) to wow judges and the sea of onlookers.
The competition also provides “Good Hair” with some dramatic stability. Rock uses the tension of the contest, the colorful combatants, and the intense preparations to explore the myriad of ways black hair is manipulated and sold to a willing public. Visiting barbershops and salons, Rock imparts a comical look at the desire to keep the natural state of black hair a distant memory. Funny stuff, though a few nuggets of information he stumbles upon introduce a semi-horror film element to the documentary.
The largest bone of contention is relaxer, a chemical spread that strips hair of its protein, thus straightening it for more traditional (or Caucasian) styling purposes. Rock can’t believe men and women allow this material in their hair, visiting a processing plant and interviewing a chemist to showcase how dangerous relaxer can be to a virginal scalp. Seeing the trend of relaxing trickling down to toddlers, “Good Hair” makes a few salient points on the nature of processed beauty and how it’s manipulated African-American culture for decades.
The second major target of picture is hair extensions, which a majority of the interviewees (including Nia Long, Raven-Symone, and Salt-N-Pepa) proudly discuss, proclaiming their weave dependence, which Rock likens to crack. While played for guffaws, “Good Hair” hits a particularly sobering moment when Rock travels to India, looking for the source of the weave donations. What he finds is a religious ceremony where locals profit from the sacrifice of young women, who give their locks to God, only to have the hair collected and resold in America.
Returning to Atlanta for the massive Bronner Brothers showdown, “Good Hair” offers only a mild interest in linking all the stories together, which softens the comic blows and the momentum of the piece. However, “Good Hair” strikes with some potent informational body blows, putting a spotlight on black hair that’s shocking, enlightening (Rock intends to help out white folks with this picture), and frequently riveting.