As usual, comedian Paul Mooney's take ends up being the best: “If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they're not happy.”
While there's more comedy than truth to Mooney's statement, it underlines the question implicit in the title of Chris Rock's new documentary, “Good Hair,” a look at the African-American hair industry and its legion of customers.
Rock claims the concept struck him when one of his young daughters asked him one day, “Daddy, why don't I have good hair?” To him it was akin to asking, “Why is my normal hair not good enough?”
According to Rock this question prompted him to explore why black people — spending billions annually, he learns — want their hair to look more European.
The answers take him across the country and around the world, from salons in Harlem to the biannual Bronner Bros. International Hair Show in Atlanta and to India, where much of the human material for weaves and extensions originates.
The tone is one of bemused surprise, like that of the (white) chemist Rock finds who demonstrates that the same chemical used to relax tightly curled hair can melt a soda can, and wonders why anyone would mess with it.
This gee-whiz reporter shtick generates plenty of laughs, but it might be the reason the filmmaker spends too much time on the financials of his subject, and has difficulty finding a single point of view.
While Rock is ostensibly trying to figure out why so much time and money is spent “looking white,” a majority of “Good Hair” is educational, and feels aimed at an audience unschooled in or even unaware of the world of painful relaxers and $5,000 weaves. Whites? It's difficult to tell, a symptom of the lack of overall focus in this otherwise entertaining movie. (PG-13) 95 min. HHHII