Men will be in shock and awe, as will many women. It’s not only African-Americans that go to extreme lengths for shiny, straight hair, but in Chris Rock’s new documentary,
Good Hair — in theatres Oct. 16 — even the comedian is dumbfounded to learn that women spend as much as $5000 for a weave and that there is sometimes a lay-away plan. For hair, yes hair.

Inspired by “the most beautiful girl in the world,” his 5-year-old daughter Lola, who took dad by surprise with the question, “Daddy, how come I don’t have good hair,” Rock embarks on a quest that takes him from neighbourhood salons to laboratories, conventions and even India, where hair harvesting is big big business. Directed by Jeff Stilson, it is an eye-opening film for even the most beauty conscious and knowledgeable.

Simultaneously funny (of course, it’s Chris Rock) and educational (it’s a 9 billion dollar industry),
Good Hair is also dotted with shocking revelations: mothers who have their toddler’s hair relaxed (as young as 3, says one stylist); the burn and pain of the chemicals, and unsuspecting Indian women who have had their long locks lopped off by thieves.

Plenty of women from other ethnicities get their hair straightened and wear extensions, but it’s clear from
Good Hair that this is an issue that starts early for many African-Americans and has a major effect on self-esteem. White hair = good hair or straight hair = good hair, they are taught to believe. Besides those from every facet of the hair industry, Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Raven Symone, Dr. Maya Angelou, Salt n’ Pepa, Eve, and Reverend Al Sharpton weigh in on the topic.

Some black men in the film also talk about using hair relaxer, as Rock notes, “the closest thing we have to a nap antidote” and comically nicknamed “creamy crack” by those who get it done religiously. We learn the “government name,” for the chemical in it is “sodium hydroxide,” and Rock quips that a vat of the relaxer, worth $18,000, “would last Prince about a month.” He then talks more seriously with a professor and chemical expert about how it can burn the skin and permanently damage the lungs if breathed in. An experiment shows an aluminum can disintegrated after four hours. Ice-T describes his experience with relaxer as a “torture session” — and he’s one tough guy.

More on Chris Rock’s latest flick on the next page …

Rock also dares to explore many of the women’s long-kept “beauty secret,” the weave, finding out how many hours it takes to secure it, the enormous cost and what they do in intimate moments when a man wants to run his hands through it. “Don’t touch my weave,” is the resounding response. He finds women on average incomes will spend $1000-plus on their weave, an expense they sometimes sacrifice rent or other necessities for, or a man will subsidize.

Rock likely never imagined how involved and lucrative this industry is, and on his trip to India, where a quarter of the population live in poverty on 40-cents/day, is told that human hair is the country’s biggest export. He shows us where the bags of hair are washed and sewn, and goes to the temple where women are shorn as an offering to god, and their hair is later sold.

Back home, Rock chats with a small group of high schoolers where one girl says that an afro seems “out of place at an office.” Once upon a time, bee-hive hair-dos were all the rage, and that would look out of place now too. Fashion changes but be free and be you.

So what does he tell his daughter? “The stuff on top of their heads is no where near as important as the stuff inside their heads.”

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