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Friday, May 28, 2010

Probably the most educational film of the decade

I'm not saying that "Good Hair" is a film that changed my life but it's certainly a film that will change the way I look at a large part of the population. It's a brilliant documentary made for HBO which comes out here soon on DVD. It's about black women and their relationship with their hair. This relationship, I discover, is a hundred times more complex, expensive and time-consuming than that of their white counterparts. Chris Rock, who presents the film, finds out the staggering lengths that black women will go to in their pursuit of straight, flowing hair. He learns about the wigs that black women formerly wore (this is what Tommy Tucker was urging his baby to put on in "High Heel Sneakers"), the staggering multi-million dollar trade in "relaxants", the creams that temporarily remove the natural kink in "nappy" hair, and then looks at the weaves sported by the superstars and those who aspire to look like them. He travels to India to find out where the hair they wear in Compton and Harlem comes from and he visits the annual hair fair in Atlanta, Georgia where he finds that while African Americans only account for 12% of the US population they're responsible for 80% of the money spend on hair care products. The pain and expense these people are prepared to go to is genuinely astounding. The film can't help touching on all manner of issues - from racial stereotyping through fashion and economics to the rules regarding touching a black woman's hair during sex (the only rule is don't) and the fact that the haircare trade is Asian-owned - and features more engaging, candid and savvy interviewees than you'll see in a whole year of documentaries, partly because it doesn't feature one academic or journalist. You can get a good idea of it here. I can't recommend it too highly.