Chris Rock’s “Good Hair” (2009) illustrates the evolution of the hair debate among people with an interest in black-textured hair. Now streaming on Netflix, the documentary begins with an inquiry from one of the comedian’s young daughters. Even as a small child, she wanted good hair. Like a diligent father, Rock sets out to find exactly what it is and what it takes to get it.
From the perspective of someone who saw the documentary when it was originally released, “Good Hair” has aged badly. The ideas about natural versus relaxed hair sound as though they have been ripped right from the 1990s. Or, perhaps that is not a flaw in the movie – – it is a flaw in the way black Americans and their stylists (of any race) have been talking and thinking about hair.
Particularly troubling is the part wherein Rock takes a comedic approach to the entire situation. After traveling to India to figure out where hair weave comes from and how it is made, he returns to the US, and in Los Angeles tries to peddle hair from black people. Even a black employee in a Korean hair shop made a face and said, “No one wants that.”
The sentiment speaks volumes about why the documentary, with its arguable flaws, and the current natural hair “movement” are so important. This is hair that grows from people’s scalps. There is something inherently wrong about not wanting it.
Curious, too, is why Netflix might have brought the film to stream now? Now as in at what might be the tail end of a pandemic, when the US is still rife with racial issues, and when commercials, movies, and television and streaming shows are full of people with natural hair.
Why now? Because the negative attitudes expressed in the film did not necessarily dissipate with the passage of time and with the increased visibility of Afro-textured hair. While Rock does collect anecdotal evidence from male and female celebrities, the real work of the documentary comes when he interviews people involved with the business of hair, or people who can explain the chemistry behind relaxers.
Although, some might ask about the relevance of putting a cola can in the active chemicals in relaxers. The cans were left in the mixture for hours. What might have been more helpful or eye-opening would have been leaving the can in for the same amount of time as a person would leave the mixture on their hair.
Still, for people who are interested in the social, emotional, and economic value of hair, “Good Hair” is a fascinating film. That the attitudes and approaches need an update is more society’s issue than that of Rock and his team.