Good Hair

The number one reason why people don't like to talk about politics is because it can get heated pretty quickly. The number two reason is because it gets repetitive. If someone really cares about something, often times they can only see it from one perspective, and if they're challenged they'll just double down and reiterate the same point over and over again. It's understandable - but it's frustrating.

It's to Chris Rock's great credit, then, that his documentary about African American people's hair is well rounded, starting out with a focus on political issues but ultimately branching out to show many sides of the issue at hand. Good Hair begins with Rock introducing footage of his young daughters and then discussing how they had already internalized that their natural hair was "bad hair" when they were still very young. This sets off the first section of the movie where he interviews a wide cross section of African American people about their relationship to their self image and their relationship to America's culture of beauty.

You could make a watchable movie out of these various talking head segments because the people are well curated and their stories are very personal, but it would ultimately feel kind of slight because America's focus on unattainable beauty ideals is well trodden territory. Fortunately, the next segment of the movie moves to another thorny topic: the business side of the hair industry. It's a natural segue, because the huge number of products that people buy so they can have "good hair" have to be made by somebody, and the money has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, it turns out that most of the money doesn't end up going to African American owned businesses.

This is another section that could be made into a whole movie, because there's a lot that can be said about the socio-economic relationship between the African American community and America at large. However, that would be a very serious movie, one that could very easily be illuminating, but which might be less entertaining. Chris Rock is too much of a stand up to make such a relentless movie - he knows that you can tell people the truth, but it goes down easier if you supplement it with something that's a bit more fun.

To that end the movie builds to some segments which are simply meant to be fun. One is a foray into the barbershop, which has traditionally been one of the central places in African American life. Rock meets a vivid cross section of people in the barbershops he visits, and of course some of the more outspoken people spark debates - debates which are pretty entertaining to watch.

By far the most entertaining part of the movie, however, is the trip to the Bronner Brothers hair show in Atlanta, which features five beauticians cutting hair in a competitive show. This part of the movie feels a bit like a reality TV show - all of the competitors are so ridiculous they barely feel like real people, and their ideas for their stage shows are really over the top - but it's still fun to watch. One beautician's act includes her cutting someone's hair while she's hanging upside down from a pull up bar; another cuts hair while underwater; another cuts hair while a chorus line dances behind him. It's ridiculous, and it doesn't seem like a good way to get your hair cut, but it's a nice counter balance to the heavier side of the movie, showing that not every way of looking at these issues has to be deadly serious.

Of course, Good Hair is not an exhaustive exploration of any of these topics - you just can't say everything that there is to be said about the state of modern African American owned businesses and still make time to show people getting their hair cut in a shark tank. Still, Good Hair serves as a solid discussion of many obvious issues and an even better introduction to many less obvious issues, and it also has people getting their hair cut in a shark tank. If every political documentary was this well balanced, I think more people would watch political documentaries. (Too bad it's probably going to be a bit harder to wedge a barbershop section into a movie about Guantanamo Bay.)

Winner: Me

Good Hair on IMDB