When Chris Rock’s daughter, Lola, came to him crying and asked, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” the bewildered comic committed himself to figuring out the complex answer to his daughter’s simple, but profound question.
In the documentary film, Good Hair, Rock takes us on a fascinating journey through the international business trade of hair weaves, the science behind relaxers and the surprising question of how much black women spend on their hair.
During a press junket for a film festival in Salt Lake City, Rock discussed with Salon Magazine journalist Andrew O’Hehir how the initial idea for the film expanded the further he investigated.
“It kind of blew my mind, the idea that in an African-American household you got this Porsche that nobody can see, these working-class and middle-class black women spending thousands of dollars… buying a Porsche that nobody sees.” He adds, “There is a whole economic realm to this that I didn’t know about at all.”
Human hair is India’s single largest export. He also sees how the culture has adapted to make harvesting the hair easy and profitable for the industry. Many Hindu temples conduct “hair sacrifices” during religious ceremonies that allow members of the temple a few moments of cultural distinction (and no money) in exchange for hair that can later be worth thousands of dollars. This “sacrificed” hair is processed and sold to hair dealers around the world who, in turn, sell it to local dealers who, in turn, sell it to salons and hair vendors at a huge profit.
How does Rock view this suspicious economic angle? He tells O’Hehir a different cut of the movie exists where Rock treats the hair trade as a problem for black females. He later calls on women to reject this international cartel of exploitation. But, he says, in the end that version simply wasn’t as fun to watch. He said he would rather inform and entertain rather than divide and mobilize.
On that tip, Rock succeeds. The movie is a serious, yet non-confrontational look at how cultural norms can make us do and believe some crazy things. It’s entertaining, but not angry. Celebrities such as Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Raven Symoné, Maya Angelou, and Reverend Al Sharpton all candidly offer their stories and observations that add much more entertainment to what could have become a sobering, but impersonal look into the culture of beauty in the world.