Support Local Journalism. Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club.

Dream Weaver 

Chris Rock combs through the rituals of African-American hair

IN HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY, Malcolm X recalled the first time he had his hair chemically straightened: "The comb felt as if it was raking my skin off. My eyes watered, my nose was running. I couldn't stand it any longer; I bolted to the wash basin." For Malcolm, the "conk" — as the process was then known — became a symbol of black self-degradation.

Comedian Chris Rock takes a lighter view of African-American hair in the documentary Good Hair, which he produced and wrote with a team including director Jeff Stilson. Rock's premise is captivating. One day, his young daughter asked, "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?" Weaving together interviews with actresses, musicians, stylists, hair-product manufacturers and, amusingly, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Rock explores cultural aversion to naturally kinky hair and shows the lengths to which black women (and some men) will go to achieve straight, European-style tresses — "good hair." That includes skin-burning chemicals, labor-intensive extensions, entire days and thousands of dollars spent at the salon.

Rock is an amusing and curious explorer as he examines this mad pursuit of smooth hair. He enlists a scientist to demonstrate, by dissolving an aluminum soda can, the corrosiveness of sodium hydroxide (lye), the chemical basis of hair straightener. He travels to India to trace the source of much of the hair used in expensive weaves: poor, devout Hindus, who sacrifice their smooth locks in a head-shaving ritual at the temple, which then sells the shorn hair. Rock follows the hair as it travels to Los Angeles, where it's more profitable to traders than gold.

The movie glosses over the political implications of these practices, preferring to focus on the comic elements, like when Rock prods barber-shop denizens to riff on the problems of having sex with women who wear don't-touch weaves. It misses an opportunity to examine the tyranny of "white" beauty standards and wastes considerable time focusing on a glitzy hair-styling competition in Atlanta. But Chris Rock isn't Malcolm X, and the movie is best appreciated for what it is: a funny and informative look at a seldom-explored cultural phenomenon.film@clevescene.com

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Cleveland Scene. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Cleveland Scene, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at news@clevescene.com.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club


Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.


Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.


Join the Cleveland Scene Press Club for as little as $5 a month.

Read the Digital Print Issue

November 17, 2021

View more issues

Most Popular

No recently-read stories.

Visit the archives…

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Calendar

Staff Pick Events

  • Season's Bleedings @ Capitol Theatre

    • Sat., Dec. 4
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show @ Cedar Lee Theatre

    • First Saturday of every month

© 2021 Cleveland Scene: 737 Bolivar Rd., Suite 4100, Cleveland, OH 44115, (216) 505-8199
Logos and trademarks on this site are property of their respective owners.


Website powered by Foundation