DVD Review: Good Hair

Once upon a time, comedian Chris Rock's little girl Lola came into their house and sobbed, "Daddy, why don't I have good hair?"

This is the tale Rock's voice-over opens with, accompanied by photos of his cute-as-a-button-with-braids daughter, as he begins his documentary quest to discover what "good hair" really means for the black community.

Alternating between his voice-overs and wisecracking in-person interviews with celebs like T-Pain, Salt 'n' Pepa, Maya Angelou, and Al Sharpton (who Rock dubs the "Dalai Lama of Hair Relaxer"); stylists at local salons and barber shops; and a host of insiders and experts, Rock tackles the obvious good hair questions. Ranging from the practical (how much does it cost?) to the profound (why do black women think "nappy" is bad?), Rock's questions include some many may not have thought of, such as is good hair safe? A demonstration of relaxant chemicals dissolving raw chicken suggests otherwise, as does one rapper's story of how a bad relaxant burn was the reason for her famous, half-shaved 80s hairdo. Women, of course, are the focus of the film as they're the demographic fueling the billion-dollar black hair industry with their desire for straight, silky tresses. Not only wealthy stars, but working class teachers and other 9-to-5ers pay as much as $3,500 for weaves and salon relaxant treatments that require costly monthly maintenance.

Rock visits black hair epicenters like Greensboro, North Carolina, the home of Dudley Products (relaxant manufacturer with a beauty school), and India, where hair entrepreneurs bid for the locks of native women who shave their heads as a symbol of self-sacrifice -- not knowing that their hair may someday end up on the head of a Boston businesswoman or an L.A. stripper. He also chronicles contestants' preparation for the Bronner Bros. hair show in Atlanta's Hair Battle Royale, which has less to do with cutting hair than sexy lingerie models, marching bands, and similar over-the-top showmanship.

Rock also, as expected, seizes every opportunity to expose the silly side of the craving for "creamy crack" (relaxant) and good hair, proposing a "Weave Airlines" idea as a time saver (get a weave while you fly) to women at a salon or steering men in a barber shop into a conversation about weave sex -- are you allowed to pull a woman’s weave in the heat of passion? After breaking the ice with his jokes, however, Rock broaches touchier subjects -- do black men prefer white women because they can yank their hair in bed? Trying to sell black Afro hair to an Asian hair dealer he asks whether or not the dealer thinks customers could get "sickle cell anemia from black hair." This question receives a "yes," leaving a viewer wondering whether or not the dealer (obviously not a native English speaker) truly understood the unsettling joke (if it really was one) or the question.

Ultimately, Good Hair is about self image. Though the numerous glossy-weaved celebrities, like Disney star Raven, who tiptoe around the subject, seem too unaware or unconcerned to really get to the root (pardon the pun) of the problem, it's Rock's humor catching people off guard that seems to stir up the most truth in this hilarious and hair-raising (OK, that pun was intentional) documentary.

Good Hair is available now on DVD.