Thursday, October 29, 2009

On Chris Rock's Docusploitation: Let Black Women "Do" Our Own Hair! (GUEST POST)

By Tikia K. Hamilton

Admittedly, a friend had prepared me in advance for some of the inadequacies to be found in Chris Rock's film Good Hair, and I am probably a bit behind the rest of the world (and I do mean rest of the world, see problems with film below) in viewing it. Still, it left me with a few thoughts...The very first problem with the movie is that it is told through the eyes of a person who can never truly experience what it means to be a black woman living amidst a world of images that reinforce the notion that, while black can sometimes be trendy, it can never truly represent the highest attainment of beauty. 

While Rock might be able to sympathize with his daughters and perhaps even a wife addicted to "creamy crack," he is in some ways like the whites and Asians (and Indians) whom he criticizes for their “blacksploitation” in profiting from black women’s hair obsessions.  Of course, that he is a comedian makes the film at times comical, but, in truth, the conflicting messages that he promotes about black women's obsessive compulsive behavior sure ain't funny.

Perhaps Rock thought he was doing something by interviewing the likes of Nia Long, Salt N Pepa, Ms. Video Vixen herself, and even Maya Angelou (who currently sports what she says is her very first perm), and pimpomatic Ice-T (goodness!).  For a moment, I thought there was a glimmer of hope when Pepa tells of how she actually burned her hair to the scalp (and then tried to hide it by coloring in the bald spot with brown makeup and the asymmetrical hairstyle that wound up becoming popular as a result, she says). But then, when she goes on to state how she must have the “very finest human hair” for her one-piece (i.e. wig vs. weave), I knew that the film could go nowhere but down from that point. 

With perhaps one or two exceptions, all of the other women seem to affirm Pep’s perceptions of what makes good hair, or should we say, a good weave…I must say that I was even surprised by Maya Angelou’s final words of wisdom for the film—“a woman’s hair is her crown and glory.” Not her mind, not her unwavering confidence, not even the proud hat that the church lady dons on Sunday, but her hair. (Ironically, Maya Angelou offers the forward to Michael Cunningham’s Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats, Doubleday, 2000.) hmmm…

The most compelling part of the film (for me) comes when Rock visits India to find the true source of all of this “good hair.” But for the white companies that have usurped all but four (we’re told) black hair product manufacturing companies; but for some Korean and Chinese shops who tell us, unlike the shiny, luxurious Indian hair, it would be nigh impossible for them to vend nappy, “unhygienic” hair to their customers; and but for the black hair designer, himself sporting a perm, and who pimps weave to black women on the regular, we truly see the problem with the hair “care” market from start to finish. It’s like California grapes all over again, except this time, it’s a black market where women can literally lose their hair if they but blink in the theatre or in their own beds. Rock’s message: BLACK WOMEN YOU ARE CONTRIBUTING TO THE EXPLOITATION of impoverished Indians who believe their sacrifice of hair (whether stolen or voluntarily offered as a religious gesture) exalts them to a higher plain of spirituality. BLACK WOMEN, WHY YOU LITTLE DEVILS!

Now, I didn’t readily see the connection between Rock’s focus on the annual Bronner Brothers hair show, which, from where I stand, is pure performance. But I did see the somber look on one girl’s face when she was told by her fellow beauty school cohort that they would never hire her because her afro made her look “not put together,” or for Rock’s purposes, “not relaxed,” perhaps scary even (like Angela Davis, maybe…) Speaking of proud black women proudly sporting unpermed hair (for, the term "natural" makes nonpermed hair seem so exotic, “unnactural” even…isn’t it all just hair, anyway? Dead at that?)—where the hell they? Or don’t they make it to the cover of magazines, films, or past the first interview? Oh, there was one in the film: She was a darker-skinned black woman with a closely cropped croif. She stood right behind Rock and other black men in the barber shop as they mutually agreed that a woman gotta come correct with her hair or she ain’t getting’ it. (Ok, maybe I’m paraphrasing, but the point is, what must that woman have felt as her brothers basically or literally vanquished her beauty to the background? Absent perms, maybe the same way Rock’s young daughters feel in school? I’m just sayin!)

So, let me get this straight (no pun intended). Not only are Black women to blame for Indian exploitation (as if that’s not enough), but we’re damned if we pursue ends that we think and most evidence seems to prove will make us more appealing to black men and society at large, and we’re damned if we don’t. Well, hell, it seems we can’t win…but what else is new?

If, as a black man, Chris Rock wanted to make a movie about “good hair,” maybe he should have simply focused on the men in the barber shop, while interrogating and scrutinizing comments like that of D.L. Hughley, a fellow comic, such as when he once said that he had to be able to run a comb through his woman’s head…none of that nappy stuff. (Or maybe he could have asked some of them about those wave caps.) Ok, so we get it that, just as any and every black woman will go broke trying to afford a thousand dollar weave, a black man can also broke in trying to keep his lady looking good. But, he could also save a helluva lot of money if, in mixed and unmixed company, he contained his drool over the likes of Beyonce, Tyra, Nia who, to hear many tell it, are the “trufe” when it comes to flawless beauty.

What’s more, if he really wanted to instruct his daughters on lessons in blackness, he should have first studied a bit of history (can we say Madame CJ Walker?); next he should have further interrogated Mr. Diggs (the exceptionally talented, botoxed white man who was a favorite to win in the BB hairshow, even as he had nearly nude black women prancing around him), or Revlon, or Clairol for the “wages of their whiteness” when it comes to exploiting the black dollar and an unattainable standard they created for most any woman. If that’s asking too much, it’s ok. Chris has his career in buffoonery, I mean comedy safely protected by the white world… So why not let black women do our own hair (stories) and leave the social criticisms to the professionals? For contrary to belief there are among us educated folk who do this—and do this well—for a living.


rap music said...

Not to sure about this one... I saw a few advertisements about it but I get a strange feeling theres an underlying purpose for this in which u listed a few.

Citizen Ojo said...

Still don't know if I want to see this one yet.

lincolnperry said...

You just dont get it, his daughters sparked this conversation, based on a ignorant statement regarding hair texture. As a father instilling self esteem upon his daughters, he decided to evaluate this issue. Sisters are still wrestling with this issue, which is another holdover from slavery!

adarkershadeofink said...

My only beef with black womens hair obsession is I've heard it used as an excuse not to do any physical activity or they might sweat it out. I've heard that excuse too manytimes

Shamontiel L. Vaughn said...

I disagree with this entire review basically because Chris Rock didn't make these women say this. I've had black women say directly to me that I'm preppy because I refuse to wear someone else's hair in my head. My own grandmother had me pulled out of preschool to get a perm. Black women who do not like this movie are mad because Chris Rock exposed the truth. If you don't like it, do something about it. Stop wearing weaves, wigs, and stop pushing kids to do the same. Why should he have a full movie about a barbershop when the purpose was about black WOMEN and BLACK WOMEN's hair. That's not even a logical conclusion. I was frustrated that he didn't talk about natural hair, but Chris Rock did this movie because of a comment his daughter made. I feel like some folks were so lost in how he didn't talk about natural hair and completely missed the point of the movie. Even in the end, he encouraged women to accept their own hair. How do you go against someone who says be happy with you and consistently says black men don't care about hair? Seriously, he's trying to get BLACK women to go past their hair to their brains. And that's not something we can blame on Chris Rock. Madame C.J. Walker was one of the biggest instigators in perming hair. Regardless of who started it, that doesn't do anything to detract from the movie. If anything he can say we were brainwashed SINCE the days of Madame C.J. Walker and help his point even more.

Lalia said...

@ Shamontiel L. Vaughn if you're a man you sir are an ignorant sorry sack of crap! First of all I think how a woman wears her hair is her own personal choice or preference. If you're a woman you're just hateful and judgemental!

Shamontiel L. Vaughn said...

Lalia, I am a woman. And before you try to tell me about myself, how about being able to form an intelligent opinion without immediately sinking to elementary tactics like calling me an "ignorant sorry sack of crap." Not only does it make your argument weak, but it also doesn't help me understand why it is you feel I'm an "ignorant sorry sack of crap." And how do you call someone judgmental but don't have enough brain power to even be able to form a cohesive argument without name calling? How about we act like grown-ups and form opinions without acting like we're still in first grade, 'kay? And in order to be "hateful," I'd have to be jealous or mad. Every time someone doesn't agree with another person, it doesn't mean they're hateful. It just means they don't agree. If you believe that everyone who doesn't agree with you must be hateful, you're in for one long reality check.

Now that we have that out of the way, how about you explain why you disagree with me and try to do it maturely this time. If you can't do that, stick to going to recess and doing the name-calling with the rest of the kids on the playground.

human hair extensions said...

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