Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” Could Set White Men Straight

By Channing Kennedy Aug 07, 2009

I know Daisy just beat me to the punch on posting this trailer, but stick with me. I remember very clearly an exchange I had with a Black woman I’d just met, shortly after I’d left my rural Missouri hometown to join Americorps*NCCC. My new teammate told me, casually, that her hair was about the same length as mine. I had, you know, scruffy hipster hair, like Shaggy from Scooby-Doo. My friend had a million thin black braids that poured past her shoulders. Just nod, I thought to myself. I know that you don’t understand what she just said. We’ll figure it out later. I nodded. Eventually I found out about braids (oh), but it was still years before I learned anything about the social and economic implications of Black hair. Or even the scheduling implications. Not that I wouldn’t have been interested — it was simply a non-subject in my world. They never talked about it on Friends, if you know what I mean. I couldn’t even find out that I didn’t know about it. I bring it up because of two posts I just read about the trailer for Chris Rock’s new documentary, Good Hair. Trailer and ruminations below the cut. Good Hair has been getting a lot of positive buzz at Sundance (and it’s so nice to say that about a Chris Rock film). The official writeup promises:

When Chris Rock’s daughter, Lola, came up to him crying and asked, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair?” the bewildered comic committed himself to search the ends of the earth and the depths of black culture to find out who had put that question into his little girl’s head! … What he discovers is that black hair is a big business that doesn’t always benefit the black community and little Lola’s question might well be bigger than his ability to convince her that the stuff on top of her head is nowhere near as important as what is inside.

Sounds fascinating, right? Not according to reviewer Dustin Rowles:

I’m way too goddamn white to offer much of an opinion on the trailer for Chris Rock’s new documentary, Good Hair. It’s about … it’s about female African-American hair. Weaves and straighteners and, I dunno, hair. About its socioeconomic role in African-American circles and … hmmm. I love you, Chris Rock. But a documentary on hair? Really? … Has America really been clamoring for this documentary? Maybe it’s a satirical documentary, a documentary that’s really about just how ridiculous we have gotten about our documentary subjects.

And, interestingly, PostBourgie is equally blasé, though for different reasons:

Black hair has been examined, ad nauseum, by cable networks like BET and TV One, scholars, journalists, beauty/barbershops and the chitlin’ circuit. The jury’s still out on where this documentary will fit into that constantly warmed-over narrative. … Is Paul Mooney’s take on black hair of pressing relevance to you? Does this flick look like it’ll examine anything you didn’t already know? Would you really like to see Chris Rock travel to India and joke about black women robbing Indian women of the hair?

So… one reviewer thinks this subject is too esoteric to warrant a documentary (and is excited to see Chris Rock not acting), and one review thinks it’s too well-trod to warranter a documentary (and is reluctant to watch Chris Rock making jokes). I think two wrongs are going to make a right. In conversation, Daisy said something to the effect of "Only Chris Rock could get away with this!" and I think that’s true beyond the obvious applications. There’s some oh-no-he-didn’t stuff in this trailer, to be sure — but also, he’s exceptional as an incisive cultural observer and as a Black man with white box office appeal. (RIP, Dave Chappelle’s career.) To put it another way: Dustin up there might have a 1% chance of checking out Chris Rock’s documentary about the sociopolitical ramifications of Black women’s hair. That’s 1% more likely than he is to even hear about anybody else’s documentary on the same subject. And I guarantee that Chris Rock had the Dustins of the world at least partially in mind when he decided to commit his struggle to celluloid. For at least one audience, he’s using the Chris Rock brand to broaden some horizons that nobody else is broadening. I can’t dismiss all of PostBourgie’s concerns about the trailer — the scene where Chris and his camera crew appear to have cornered an Asian shopowner behind his cramped counter made me cringe a bit. Maybe the scene plays out better in full; here, it looks like the worst kind of thoughtless populism. As for PB’s contention that this subject’s been done to death, well, time and a RaceWire Goes to the Movies post will tell if Chris Rock has anything novel to say. And maybe it’ll be just a lackluster revisit of conversations heard by anyone who’s set foot in a barbershop. That might not be such a bad thing; sometimes us 18- to 35-year-old white males need a film that’s meant just for us.