Friday, October 30, 2009

Good Hair

Halle Berry 2004 in Hamburg GermanyImage via Wikipedia
Ty and I went to see Chris Rock's "Good Hair" a couple of days ago. Good Hair is a movie that's difficult to categorize. Is is a comedy? Is it a documentary? Is it a social commentary? After watching it I'm not really sure. But, one of the things I love about the movie is it is one that will get people talking. Some have accused Chris of airing black people's secrets about the obsession with our hair in front of white people. Some have accused him of exploiting black women by making this movie. But, we see it as an opportunity to educate ourselves and the white community about the incredibly (and unnecessarily complicated) subject of black hair.

Given that Chris is not known as a documentary maker and how many of us really want to see a documentary anyway, I think the combination of comedy and documentary was a good idea. The movie, for the most part, keeps you entertained (although I found myself asking why some of the scenes were in there). There are many sexual references and one hair dresser in particular who talks a blue streak, unfortunately making the movie not suitable for children, IMO. We were warned not to take our 12 and 9 year olds and I'm really glad we didn't.

The movie touched on a couple of  really good points.  The first is the obsession in the black community (and with white people) about "good" hair or straight hair.   The term "good hair' basically means hair that is smooth and straight.  The closer to European, the better.   Chris talked about the damage that can be done by chemical relaxers.  But, this part of the movie was greatly exaggerated as Chris spoke with a white chemist who was shocked that women put sodium hydroxide on their hair.  Well, as a Chemical Engineer, it's not pure sodium hydroxide and you don't leave it on your hair for several hours as they did in the demonstration in the movie.  But, black people literally spend billions of dollars a year trying to make their hair into something it often simply cannot be.  People call us all the time asking how they can get their hair to look like Halle Berry's or Michael Jackson's or some other star who was either born with a completely different hair type or is paying several thousand dollars a year in achieving that style. 

Another great point made by the movie is the magnitude of the black hair care market.  Our women (and men) spend a huge amount of money on hair care products and most of that money goes to white companies who sell through Asian distributors.  We first started talking about this back in 2006 in this blog post The State of the Black Hair Care Industry  Al Sharpton put it graphically when he said we are the only people who wear our economic oppression on our heads. Most beauty supply stores are owned by Koreans and other Asians who have put a stranglehold on the market.  This was also documented in a film by (ironically a white guy) Aron Ranen. The film can be purchased on DVD here Black Hair DVD or viewed on YouTube here.   Being in the black hair care market, Treasured Locks has purposely avoided dealing with distributors.  Frankly, most of the products distributed through those channels are crap.  And secondly, the distributors have on many occasions flat out lied to us about product availability as soon as they have found out we are a black owned retailer.  Chris talked to women in a beauty shop who were spending $1,000 a piece on a "weave" (basically a wig sewn to the head). 

After watching Chris on Oprah and seeing the clips of the movie on YouTube and other places we felt most of the really funny parts we had seen already.  And, having been in the industry for a while now we weren't as shocked as shocked by the economic realities as a lot of people would have been. We definitely recommend "Good Hair".  But, if you see it and like it, definitely check out Aron Ranen's documentary also. 

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kc bob said...

Great write-up Brian. I thought of Treasured Locks when I saw Leno interview Chris Rock about Good hair a few weeks ago. I will have to get it on my Netflix queue.

Brian said...


Thanks for commenting and for making the film. Ty and I were already running Treasured Locks when we discovered your film. But, we found it to be extremely enlightening and have shared it with our clients to help them understand just how important this issue is to the black community.

Have you seen "Good Hair"? I thought Al Sharpton's remarks were quite good.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Sounds rather enlightening. I was aware of the obsession with hair, but had somehow never realized the Korean angle, and also how much money is wrapped up in it. I have had black friends for years who were very open about their culture and have even had one white friend ask me what black people are like, which seemed like a really odd question to me, having always had black people around me. My friend Lelia tells everyone I'm black, but can pass, but I'm about as white as they come. ;-)

Some of the wisest words ever given to me by one of my black friends were "Don't ever touch a sista's hair!" ;-)

I plan to check out both films.

Great write up, Brian. Good stuff as always.