Directed by Jeff Stilson. (2009, PG-13, 95 min.)
REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Oct. 23, 2009
Hair is personal. It's also political. Maya Angelou calls it "a woman's glory." And it can be exceedingly expensive to maintain, especially if you're among the millions of African-American women (and, in far fewer numbers, men) who have their hair straightened in a salon or auxiliaried with a weave. Chris Rock produced and co-wrote this documentary exploration of black hair and the booming industry that caters to it. In an opening narration, he cites his two young daughters as inspiration for the film, anticipating a time when he'll have to have a conversation with them about nappy hair vs. straightened or "good hair," as it has historically been thought of in both black and white communities. The reedy comedian also appears on camera, affably interrogating everybody from Hollywood actresses such as Raven-Symoné and Nia Long to sketchy weave salesmen and the bantering clientele of a New York barbershop who nearly descend into a brawl when the subject of the erotic advantages of black hair vs. white hair is brought to the table. Rock feigns like he's impartial here, but it's pretty obvious he's aghast at the toxic chemicals required to straighten black hair – the look of which is repeatedly referred to by women in the film as "natural"; the examination of that paradoxical logic could fill another 90 minutes alone. Still, Rock never hectors; he makes his point, as befitting a crack comedian, in quick barbs and cutaway looks to the camera – a camera, by the way, that gets around, traveling to India, the world's human-hair-export capital, and Atlanta, for the Bronner Bros. International Hair Show, a semiannual expo cum three-ring circus that lends the film a satisfying framing story. First-time director Stilson, who previously wrote and produced for The Chris Rock Show and The Daily Show, covers a lot of ground here. In his thoughtfully executed and thought-provoking piece, he touches on – if by no means produces a definitive telling of – many facets of the highly charged topic of hair: the personal, the political, the financial, and – oh, yeah – the glory of it all.