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Film Club: Good Hair

Chris Rock Tries to Answer His Daughter’s Question About “Good Hair”

Above: "Good Hair"

Audio

Aired 10/30/09

Film Club Good Hair

"Good Hair" (playing at Edwards Rancho San Diego, AMC Mission Valley, and UA Horton Plaza) is comedian Chris Rock's attempt to answer his little daughter's question about "good hair" for African American women. Listen to our discussion on the KPBS Film Club.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. I’m here with Beth Accomando and Scott Marks. This is the KPBS Film Club of the Air. The next movie we’re looking at is “Good Hair,” comedian Chris Rock’s documentary about the issues and industry of black hair. Rock uses humor and honesty in examining why the issue of African-American hairstyles consumes so much time and effort, and how much money is being spent in trying to straighten, lengthen, and weave black hair. And “Good Hair” was directed by Jeff Stilson. Scott, you had a good time at this movie. What did you like about it?

SCOTT MARKS: Well, first let me tell you what I didn’t like about it. I half expected a documentary about African-American hair and I think that there should’ve been a little more room for that. Talk about what the Afro meant to the ‘60s revolutionaries. Talk…

CAVANAUGH: Like the history of…

MARKS: Yeah, a little bit. I mean, talk about conking and Marcel, you know, and things like that. So that wasn’t in there, and I was not crazy about the whole beauty show bracketing of the film. You know, I mean, I thought that was a little too easy. That said, this was a film that really kind of told tales out of school, like Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever.” And that fascinated me and I laughed pretty much consistently throughout this film. I think a lot of the characters that he shows you have enough good cheer and enough of a sense of humor about themselves – It all started when Chris Rock’s youngest daughter came up to him and said, Daddy, you know, when am I going to have good hair? Will I ever have good hair? And this kind of prompted the whole, you know, that was the impetus for this film. And this is a really funny documentary, a very, very amusing film. The scene in the barbershop where they’re talking to men about wouldn’t it just be simpler to date white women because during – when you’re making love to them you can, you know, touch their hair, you can pull on their hair, and you’re not allowed to do that with a black woman. I never knew this. So there were a lot of things that, as a Caucasian with an izro, which is an Israeli afro, right – I really got a kick out of this film. This film delighted me in a lot of ways that were quite unexpected.

CAVANAUGH: And, Beth, what about you? What did you think of “Good Hair?”

BETH ACCOMANDO: I liked it, too. I thought it was slow to start. Chris Rock I don’t think is the best on-camera person sometimes when he’s interviewing people and asking questions but after about a half hour, it really kind of kicked into high gear and I thought it was great. And then when he becomes more like part of the conversation in a scene, he’s much better than when he’s kind of sitting there trying to ask direct questions because he’s not really a good interviewer. But, yeah, I thought it was fascinating. And he, you know, he got some people on camera, too, some celebrities to talk about their hair and their weave and how much they spend on it. And you got…

MARKS: That was the biggest shock.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

MARKS: This is like a drug addiction.

ACCOMANDO: It’s like a thousand to $3500 to…

MARKS: To – to go to the barber.

ACCOMANDO: And if he…

MARKS: My God.

ACCOMANDO: And we’re talking about people who are not just celebrities who are doing that. And…

CAVANAUGH: Schoolteachers and…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: So, yeah, it was pretty amazing. And I think, yeah, that barbershop scene towards the end…

MARKS: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …and when he gets people to open up and talk about, you know, their hang-ups like that, it was great.

MARKS: And Rock shows a tremendous amount of restraint. He never – he resists making fun of these characters, and in a lot of cases you don’t have to.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: You just turn it on. There’s this one guy at the end and he like saved the best for last. It was the man who invented the Jheri curl…

ACCOMANDO: Oh, yeah.

MARKS: …and for about 35 seconds, this man is seated in a chair. It’s the incoherent ramblings of a lunatic, and I just wanted to hear more from this guy. This guy was on fire. And he just put the camera on him and he didn’t make any – there was no judgment passed or anything, and I think that that showed a tremendous amount of class and restraint on Chris Rock’s part to…

ACCOMANDO: Well, I’d give a little credit to the director, too.

MARKS: Yeah, Jeff Stilson, yeah.

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: We have a guest joining us for this discussion of “Good Hair” and it’s Zenibou Davis. She’s a filmmaker and professor in the Communications Department at UCSD. Zenibou, welcome to These Days.

ZENIBOU DAVIS (Filmmaker): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Now you’ve been working on a film about African-American hair for a couple of years. What did you think of this documentary, “Good Hair?”

DAVIS: I was pleasantly surprised by it because I wasn’t quite sure what his angle was going to be with it, and when you look at the trailer on YouTube or what have you, it’s a pretty raunchy trailer. But I was pleasantly surprised at the different subject matter and how he approached the subject matter. I expected it to be even more kind of lighthearted than it was, so I was very pleased to see that he did actually get people to open up and discuss things that, you know, usually people don’t talk about outside of their families or close friends.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Now, Zenibou, how is this film different from yours?

DAVIS: My film really focuses more on natural hair care and also kind of a history and look back at how certain hairstyles emanate from different cultures in Africa. So I focus more on the Afro, which is what Scott was kind of missing from this film, and more on African hairstyles and braiding, dreadlock, and also there’s a very important person here in San Diego by the name of JoAnne Cornwell, who teaches at SDSU and has developed a hairstyle called Sisterlocks, which is kind of a combination of dreadlocks and braiding and that’s currently the style that I wear my hair in right now.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Zenibou, doing this film, you know what a weave is because you’re doing a film on African-American hair. Tell the rest of the world who hasn’t seen Chris Rock’s movie yet, what is a weave? It’s fake hair that’s weaved – woven into your own hair, right?

DAVIS: Yes, yes, and that actually was a revelation for me as well because I had no idea that weaves cost…

CAVANAUGH: Right.

DAVIS: …the amount of money that they do. And I do want to just make a clarification. I do think that there’s a big difference in getting a weave in California as opposed to getting a weave in maybe New York City. I think that the price differential depends on what kind of salon you’re going to, what neighborhood you are, so on and so forth. But it’s basically a process where your hair is braided closely to your head, which is a style called cornrowing and then artificial hair or somebody else’s hair is actually sewn into your scalp so it’s kind of hanging off of the braids that are anchoring your hair onto your head so that you have a fuller head of hair with more body to it.

CAVANAUGH: Well…

MARKS: And this is not something that’s exclusive in the African-American community.

DAVIS: Oh, heck no.

ACCOMANDO: No.

MARKS: Jessica Simpson has a line of…

CAVANAUGH: Amen.

MARKS: …fake hair out there, too.

CAVANAUGH: Yes.

DAVIS: Yes.

CAVANAUGH: Well, we actually have a scene from the film. It talks about how much a weave costs. In this scene, Chris Rock is in a beauty parlor. He’s surrounded by customers, and he starts by picking up a weave and asking the owner about it.

(audio of clip from the film “Good Hair”)

CAVANAUGH: And that was the Reverend…

ACCOMANDO/CAVANAUGH: …Al Sharpton...

ACCOMANDO: …yeah.

CAVANAUGH: Now, Zenibou, do – tell us how big an issue hair is in the black community, if you would.

DAVIS: Oh, it’s definitely a very – it’s a subject that gets a lot of discussion in certain corners. It’s not something that – I mean, obviously, by Chris Rock having this particular film come out has definitely opened the doors to a lot more people but I’ve been in San Diego for 10 years and we’ve programmed a number of film series at the Malcolm X Library and every time we have films about black hair, it – the room is packed with 200-plus people. Black filmmakers have been making—and particularly black women filmmakers—have been making films about hair as early as 1982. There was a woman who’s one of the first animators Ayoka Chenzira did a film called “Hair Piece,” and there’s also another film by a African filmmaker who resides in Detroit named Andrew Dosunmu who did a film on the hair wars set in Detroit, which is called “Hot Irons.” So there are numerous films about this particular topic because it is such a – it’s a subject that pushes some buttons for some people and it’s also a subject that people are really passionate about.

CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you all briefly, starting with you, Beth, does Chris Rock, who made this documentary, “Good Hair,” does he have a position on this topic that you can tell from this documentary? Does it influence the film?

ACCOMANDO: He does have a position because he has two young girls and I think the sense you get from him is that he would much rather that they just keep their natural hair and be happy with the way they look. But he doesn’t really force that opinion on the audience throughout the whole film. I mean, he kind of comes at this as almost this kind of amused observer coming in, going, okay, my kids are asking me about good hair, what are they talking about? I thought they looked gr – they look fine to me. And then he’s going in and finding out – when he’s interviewing some of these actresses, Raven, I think he says, you know, said do you have a weave? And she like wiggles it on the top of her head and you…

MARKS: And it’s really uncomfortable to watch.

ACCOMANDO: And…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: …and he looks at her and his eyes almost, you know, pop out. I mean, basically every single – almost every single one of the women except, I think, Tracy Toms, has a weave, of the women that he’s interviewing. And the reaction he gets from each one – I mean, the reaction of Chris Rock to each one is kind of like, really? You know, I…

MARKS: And none of the men.

ACCOMANDO: …was surprised.

MARKS: All of the men have the – with the exception of Al Sharpton, all have short, close cropped haircuts. This is something that’s almost exclusive to women in the African-American community, which I find kind of ironic, too, that the men want no – maybe they can’t afford it because they’re…

ACCOMANDO: They’re paying for the women.

MARKS: …they’re paying so much for the women. I mean, which is something that they talk about throughout the course of the film.

CAVANAUGH: Zenibou, you have two daughters, so this is an issue that must be close to your own heart, too. Do they want to straighten their hair?

DAVIS: Oh, yeah. My older one definitely. There’s a lot of peer pressure, I think, from school and she’s only eight years old and – and she doesn’t say she wants to straighten her hair she just tells me, Mommy, that I would like to have my hair long. Or, I would like that look – I would like to have it like Hannah Montana or Ashley Tisdale or whoever it is. And, you know, there’s all…

CAVANAUGH: So would I.

DAVIS: …these kind of painful conversations. Well, sweetie, your hair can never really look like that. And it’s going to be different. You can style your hair different ways. She currently has like cornrows and a lot of beads in her hair right now and she’s happy with that because it’s, you know, it’s got bling in it in a different kind of way, so she’s all right with that. But I am going to buy a copy of “Good Hair” and save it so when she comes up about whether you want to put some relaxer in your hair, I will fast forward to the chapter with the chicken burning – the chicken skin burning and the Coke can disintegrating…

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

DAVIS: …and promptly show them what can happen to your scalp.

CAVANAUGH: Zenibou, thanks so much for joining us for this particular movie on the Film Club of the Air.

DAVIS: Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Zenibou Davis, filmmaker and professor in the Communications Department at UCSD. One last word about “Good Hair.” I read that it’s sort of more a celebration than a polemic, would you agree, Scott, that…?

MARKS: Oh, sure. Sure. Sure.

CAVANAUGH: And it’s a fun film.

MARKS: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: Oh, it’s definitely a fun film. But, I mean, there are some things – I mean, they do go to India to show where they’re getting all this hair from.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah.

ACCOMANDO: So, I mean, there’s some interesting issues that it raises and social concerns as well but it’s fun.

MARKS: But the African-American community really isn’t making as much money off of…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: …this process as you would think. I mean, there’s a lot of Korean people, there’s a lot of middle men who bring the hair over to the United States, so it’s just – But it’s just – it’s bracketed by this like “American Idol” type haircut showdown…

ACCOMANDO: Yeah.

MARKS: …that they have every year.

ACCOMANDO: Which wasn’t really necessary.

MARKS: Yeah, and that really didn’t do a whole heck of a lot for me but everything else in the film – I think this is a film that’s well worth seeing.

ACCOMANDO: The thing with the – I mean, the interviews with the people and when they’re actually talking with the actresses and also just in the barbershops, that stuff is great.

MARKS: Yeah.

CAVANAUGH: And the – Chris Rock’s documentary “Good Hair” is playing around San Diego in theaters.

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