Documentary gets to the root of hair care

Positive reviews have been rolling in for comedian Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, a rollicking look at African-American hair culture.

In this image released by Roadside Attractions

TORONTO — Positive reviews have been rolling in for comedian Chris Rock’s documentary Good Hair, a rollicking look at African-American hair culture.

But as far Rock is concerned, he’s already secured the most important endorsement.

“My wife loved it,” Rock said. “She had a little dinner party, had a bunch of friends over to watch it. She ain’t never done that.

“There was no Pootie Tang party.”

Of course, Good Hair — which opens in Canada on Friday after winning a Grand Jury prize at Sundance and screening last month at the Toronto International Film Festival — is no Pootie Tang.

Rock has perhaps never made a movie that so clearly expresses his unique voice. Here, under the direction of stand-up comic Jeff Stilson, Rock delves into the complex issue of black hair care, a US$9 billion industry that reaches all around the world.

Mostly, that money is wrapped up in products and procedures designed to turn curly hair straight. Why? Well, as comedian Paul Mooney puts it in the film: “If your hair is relaxed, white people are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they’re not happy.”

Still, Rock was surprised by the lengths to which people are going to get straight, silky hair, whether it involves massaging scalps with potentially blinding, destructive chemicals or pricey, high-maintenance weaves.

In the film, he dons goggles and a white lab coat as he explores a factory where hair relaxer — a thick lotion designed to smooth curls — is manufactured (while enthusiastically stirring an 8,000-kg vat of the stuff, he cracks: “This’d last Prince about a month!”), and he consults a chemist about the potential dangers of rubbing the mixture into one’s scalp (the scientist demonstrates the chemical’s destructive nature by using it to completely dissolve a can of Coke).

He also interviews regular working-class women in barbershops and salons in New York and L.A. who pay at least $1,000 every few months to have extensions woven into their hair.

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