Good Hair (PG-13)

Chris Rock leads a tour into barbershops, beauty salons and trade shows. ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS

We learn all sorts of interesting things in this amusing and socially insightful Chris Rock-guided tour into the care and culture of black hair. Rapper/actress Eve demanded her first relaxer at 9. Actor Ice-T was in 10th grade when he wore curlers to school (and was gangster enough to get away with doing so). Poet Maya Angelou waited until she was a bit older — 70! — before delving into the world of what one young African American calls “the creamy crack.”

Allegedly spurred on by his daughter’s “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” comedian Rock takes aim at the truth and humor of this potent cultural question with a sharp wit and lively curiousity, even if he doesn’t pursue vigorously enough its uglier side. As he roves through beauty salons and trade shows and interviews black men and women, he hears over and over: White hair is good hair. Hence the billion-dollar industry that makes, markets and sells weaves, relaxers and other products, most of which benefit Asian, not black, businesses.

Rock and director Jeff Stilson take something of a scattershot approach to narrative, winding the documentary around related subjects — the Indian weave-making industry, which bids on hair shaved from religious supplicants; the corrosive effects of sodium hydroxide, the main ingredient in relaxer (you don’t even want to know how fast it can melt a soda can or how easily it can leave scabs); the Bronner Bros. International Hair Show in Atlanta, which attracts the country’s most famous stylists who compete in outrageous demonstrations. The scenes leading up to the competition are the film’s least interesting, and yet Stilson uses them as a building block for the movie, returning to the contestants more often than anybody needs or wants.

More engaging are Rock’s discussions with men in a barber shop who assure him, no, you never touch a black woman’s hair, or with women who happily hand over a thousand bucks (or more) for a complicated weave, all because hair is a vital component of how they view and assess themselves. “Our self-esteem is wrapped up in it,” admits actress Tracie Thoms (who sticks with a natural curly look). “A woman’s hair is her glory,” Angelou says.

Good Hair is at its best when it teases out such truths about how much we’re willing to suffer for what we call beauty.

Cast: Chris Rock.

Director: Jeff Stilson.

Screenwriters: Lance Crouther, Paul Marchand, Chris Rock, Chuck Sklar, Jeff Stilson.

Producers: Jenny Hunter, Kevin O’Donnell, Jeff Stilson.

A Roadside Attractions release. Running time: 95 minutes. Language including sex and drug references, brief partial nudity. Playing at area theaters.


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