Chris Rock talks about ‘Good Hair’

By KatherineGamby

“Good hair” are two words that have helped to keep the black community in a slave mentality for more than 400 years. The new documentary, Good Hair, starring actor/comedian, Chris Rock, paints a different, lighter side of the issue.

Historically, there are many things that divided black slaves, such as having lighter skin versus darker skin, working in the house beside the master as opposed to in the fields under an overseer and possessing good hair instead of bad hair.

“Good hair” is defined as having a better grade of hair that is curly, wavy and easily managed, but most of all for what it is not—kinky, nappy and coarse.

Many black women spend whole days at hair salons getting relaxers, hair weaves and press and curls. These processes can lead to bad hair breakage, severe scalp burning and sores. In some ways, black hair care can be considered a form of self-mutiliation.

The documentary, Good Hair, examines the issue from the historical Hollywood perspective of many celebrities, including Nia Long, Lauren London, Salt-N-Pepa and Maya Angelou.

It also takes a more comedic route as Rock explores the extremes that black women go through in order to get “good hair.” Some of those extremes include Rock’s interactions with a researcher who tests relaxers and a trip to India to expose how Indian hair is being exploited in the hair-weave industry. Rock sat down with The Chronicle, along with other members of the college press, to discuss his vision for the documentary and some adventures he had while filming.

How did you come up with the idea for the documentary?

Chris Rock: I think in ’91 I was recording an album in Atlanta and I was trying to talk to some girl and she was modeling in the Bronner Brothers show. She was a hair model and she invited me to the show and it just blew my mind, and from that moment on I wanted to make a movie about the Bronner Brothers show, but in ’91 I wasn’t really famous and they weren’t making movies like that … it was just one of these stupid ideas at the time.  Then you go on 17 years later or whatever, and I have daughters and they’re talking about their hair and I was like “Hmm, maybe I’ll pick up that idea.”

Who was your favorite person on camera that you interviewed?

CR: It was Nia [Long], she was just great on camera, but while I was doing the movie it was probably Maya Angelou because she was telling me stories about all of these old, black celebrities like Cab Callaway, Sammy Davis [Jr.] and all of these people. She said that everybody had burn marks around their neck and ears from the relaxers, from the lye. She said ‘You can’t see it in the pictures, but they all have scabs.’  So that was kind of interesting.

Was it hard getting personal experiences from so many other celebrities?

CR: I got more No’s then Yes’s and sometimes you just had to pursue it. We set up [a booth] at the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors and you know that’s  where we got Ice-T, that’s where we got Salt-N-Pepa, that’s where we got T-Pain so we lucked up, being in the right place at the right time.

Did they interact with you on a superstar level or more so a person-to-person level?

CR: The topic is a topic in which all that other famous crap goes out of the window.  When you interview the women or even the guys, everybody is immediately right back in their kitchen, especially the girls, they go right to the kitchen of their mother doing their hair. And the guys think about their mothers and their aunts and hot combs. There is just something about the topic that just strips all of that stuff away.

What was your intial response when your daughter asked, “Daddy why don’t I have good hair?”

CR: Well, when you’re a parent and you see your kid fall and the kid wasn’t even that hurt, but the reaction of the parent made the kid think, “I should cry now.” So you have to watch out how you react and it’s the same thing when your kids say stuff. The more you react, the more it’s an issue, so when my daughter did say the thing about the hair I kind of just played it off and said,  “Aw, come on, you’ve got good hair.” I kept it  moving because if I would have stopped, she would have a complex about her hair.

The Chronicle: Are you expecting a response of change about the idea of “good hair” out of your audience after they view the film?

CR: I am absolutely not trying to start a change of any sort. I am trying to make a funny movie that is entertaining and thought-provoking. This movie will change hair the same way “We Are the World” got rid of world hunger—it’s not going to happen, it’s never happened. Movies don’t do that, music doesn’t do that, it’s just something that makes the good times and bad times in your life, you know, better.

The Chronicle: So would you want to change it?

CR: Would I want to change it? I hope my daughters would never have burnt-up scalps because of that, but whatever the rest of the world wants to do with their hair, that’s not for me to say. For whatever you want to do with your hair, hey, whatever makes you feel good, that is quite alright with me. If you want to shave it off, perm it, whatever, I just don’t think that’s my place.

The Chronicle: So you are not thinking of it as a social problem then?

CR: No, health care is a social problem, children born to really young mothers that can’t take care of them is a social problem. This is an interesting issue, I wouldn’t call it a social problem—crystal meth is a social problem.

The Chronicle: Well it’s a psychological problem.

CR: If you make it psychological. It’s the person, you know? I’ve had relaxers in my hair, I’ve had a jheri curl in New Jack City, whatever, it’s just hair.

The Chronicle: When  you  visited India, how did the people in India react to what’s going on in the black community?

CR: They don’t even know what’s going on. That was the weird thing about India. They know they cut their hair and I guess they know the temple does something with it. I don’t think they know their hair [is sold] for $3,000. It would be like if you woke up tomorrow and you get told they’ve been selling your toenails for the past 20 years. It wouldn’t even make sense to you, you would just go on about your day. It’s just hard for [them] to believe that all their bills could be paid every year with their [hair].

If you were going to make another documentary, what would it be about?

CR: I don’t know what is as good as the hair and that can be something funny too. The hair, it’s political and it’s sexy, it’s like there will be a group of guys that will just go see this because there’s hot girls in it and accidentally learn something from it. I’m sure there will be another one because everyone keeps asking for it. This was a passion project and I don’t want to do another one just because this one worked.

Good Hair will premiere to the general public on Oct. 9th. For more information on the documentary, visit GoodHairMovie.net.

kgamby@chroniclemail.com

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