Prompted by a question from his young daughter, comic Chris Rock sets out to explore the importance of hair in black culture. Rock interviews celebrities such as Ice-T and Raven Symone, and visits hair salons, stylist competitions and even an Indian temple to learn about hair culture.
Good Hair is a 2009 American comedy documentary film produced by Chris Rock Productions and HBO Films, starring and narrated by comedian Chris Rock. Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2009, Good Hair was released to select theaters in the United States by Roadside Attractions on October 9, 2009, opening across the country on October 23.
The film focuses on the issue of how African-American women have perceived their hair and historically styled it. The film explores the current styling industry for black women, images of what is considered acceptable and desirable for African-American womens hair in the United States, and their relation to African American culture.
An exposé of comic proportions that only Chris Rock could pull off, GOOD HAIR visits beauty salons and hairstyling battles, scientific laboratories and Indian temples to explore the way hairstyles impact the activities, pocketbooks, sexual relationships, and self-esteem of the black community.
According to Rock, he was inspired to make the movie after his 3-year-old daughter Lola asked him, "Daddy, how come I dont have good hair?" She has curly, wiry hair typical of many people of African descent. He realized she had already absorbed the perception among some blacks that curly hair was not "good".
Rock delves into the $9 billion black hair industry, and visits such places as beauty salons, barbershops, and hair styling conventions to explore popular approaches to styling. He visits scientific laboratories to learn the science behind chemical relaxers that straighten hair.
Rock intended to explore the topic seriously, but with humor. The movie features interviews from hair care industry businesspeople, stylists (Derek J, Jason Griggers and others) and their customers, and celebrities such as Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, T-Pain, Raven-Symone, Maya Angelou, KRS-One, Salt-n-Pepa, Kerry Washington, Eve, Reverend Al Sharpton, Andre Harrell, Tracie Thoms, Lauren London, and Meagan Good. These public figures discuss their experiences with their own hair, and the issue of how different types and characteristics of black hair are perceived in the black community.
Rock explores why black women adopt so many different styles for their hair. Techniques designed to straighten hair appear to be intended to give it characteristics of European (or "white") hair. Other styles create elaborate designs related to African traditions and recent innovations in fashion. Rock is quoted as saying, “I knew women wanted to be beautiful, but I didn’t know the lengths they would go to, the time they would spend – and not complain about it. In fact, they appear to look forward to it.”
The film features interviews with prominent entertainers and other public figures, including Nia Long, Ice-T, Raven-Symone, Maya Angelou, Salt-n-Pepa, Eve, Tracie Thoms, and Reverend Al Sharpton. They provide opinions on "good hair" and recount personal experiences in dealing with their hair.
Nia Long says, "There’s always this sort of pressure within the black community like, if you have good hair, you’re prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl that wears the Afro or the dreads or the natural hairstyle."
In Jeannette Catsoulis review of the film, she notes that Rock questions why African-American women adopt a concept of "beauty" that is not based on the natural characteristics of their hair. Some endure sometimes-painful hair treatments in order to achieve this definition of beauty. If the treatments, such as hair relaxers, are done improperly, they can cause hair loss or burns on the scalp.
Al Sharpton says, "We wear our economic oppression on our heads." He refers to the hair business, which yields billions of dollars in revenues, has shifted from African-American manufacturers to Asian manufacturers. Although the products are targeted to black consumers, Asians are making the profits.
To gain insights into the cultural issue, Rock also interviewed students and faculty at Santa Monica High School, customers in hair salons and barbershops, and hair dealers. He visited Dudley Products, one of the few companies owned by African Americans that makes hair products for the African-American community.
The film met with positive reviews from critics. Good Hair currently holds a 95% "certified fresh" rating on aggregate review website Rotten Tomatoes based on 78 reviews, with an average score of 7.4/10. Another review aggregation website, Metacritic, based on 100 reviews from mainstream critics, gave the film an average score of 72/100 based on 27 reviews. It received the Special Jury Prize Documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.
Good Hair opened in limited release on October 9, 2009, becoming the fourteenth-highest grossing film for the weekend of October 9–11, 2009 with $1,039,220 in 186 theaters with a $5,587 average. The film expanded to 466 theaters on October 23.
The documentary was criticized for not taking into account how the politics of African-American womens hair is involved in racism, sexism and classism. Moreover, the diversity of African-American hair is not recognized as well as individual agency is changing ones hair. Alynda Wheat of Entertainment Weekly shares how African-American women are "not anthropological subjects, and we don’t like being treated as curiosities." Many critics also note that African-American women are not alone in changing their hair styles. In his review, Roger Ebert states "Few people of any race wear completely natural hair. If they did, we would be a nation of Unabombers." Rock responded to critics on the Oprah Winfrey Show, saying "its not important whats on top of your head—its important whats inside of your head. That is the theme of the movie."
The film received the Special Jury Prize for a Documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.