Comedian Chris Rock made this documentary to shed some light on a billion dollar industry that up until now people were hesitant to talk about. No one else has really broached the subject of black women's hair on a national level. It was essentially a taboo topic until now.
Chris Rock interviews various well-known black women, mostly black actresses, as well as a couple of black men, about this topic, which everyone acknowledges is taboo. When Rock went on the Oprah Winfrey show in early October to promote this film, Oprah and even some audience members acknowledged its taboo nature.
What no one said on that show and at which Rock only hints in his film is the reason why. Why is it taboo? Why are black women, in particular, hesitant to talk about their hair? One reason, which I think is only minor, is the fact that more often than not their hair isn't real. Yes, a lot of black women have fake hair, and not just wigs.
Rock explores the weave. Of the $9 billion, black-hair business, weaves represent a huge chunk. One person Rock interviews who sells weaves says, to paraphrase, "If you're not in the weave business, you're not in the black hair business."
Weaves are hair taken from non-Africans, most often females from India, and sewn into the heads of black women. The process of attaching can sometimes be a 3-6 hour event, and unless you have a friend or family member who can do it cheaply, the weave can cost upwards of $1,000 or more.
Rock isn't hard-hitting, but I think he slightly reveals the exploitations that occur that you might not realize. Religious organizations in India take the hair of men and women in a ceremony called tonsure where they believe they are sacrificing their hair for a greater good, when it's really just for profit. Women in India at times have their hair stolen because that so-called hair profit can be like gold. Hair represents a huge export for India.
Major companies owned by white men and even minor companies owned by Asians have dominated control over black hair retail. Al Sharpton, who Rock calls the Dalai Lama of hair, says that with this kind of exploitation in foreign nations and exorbitant prices domestically, blacks in this country who are the major buyers of weaves get pinched.
Rock even compares it to a drug habit. What's odd is the way that black women will suffer for their hair. And, it's not just suffering in terms of long-waiting and high prices, but it's also how tons of black women who don't do weaves but who still want straight hair will subject themselves to perms, or what are also called relaxers.
A relaxer is a cream that makes black hair look like white hair. Black, or Afro-textured hair naturally is thick, wooly or bushy in appearance and feeling. It's more coarse. It grows up and out. White, or the majority of Caucasian hair is straight and grows down. Relaxers contain chemicals like sodium hydroxide or lye, which turns Afro-textured hair into straight, Caucasian hair.
Unfortunately, relaxers can cause chemical burns as well as permanent damage to black women's hair and scalp, such as alopecia. Rock also meets with a scientist that talks about other health risks that come from being exposed to the chemicals in relaxers, such as lung damage and blindness. Rock then shows how black women as young as 3 or 4 get relaxers put into their heads.
In the films What's Love Got to Do With It (1993) and Malcolm X (1992), both the characters of Tina Turner and Malcolm X had their hair fall out because of those chemicals. I remember when I saw it, I thought I would never do that, and wondered how any other black person could either.
Even though it's been going on for decades, the one thing I wonder is why. Why would black people put themselves through this? Piggybacking off My Nappy Roots (2005), the answer is again hinted but never directly said. I'm sorry to have to be the one to say it, but the answer is clearly racism. No one outright admits it, but when Rock and director Jeff Stilson show the photo of Farrah Fawcett, we get the subtext.
The subtext is that a white woman with long, straight hair that goes down her back is what is beautiful. White, or Caucasian hair is what's beautiful or better, and Afro-textured hair is not. There's even a moment when Rock goes to a hair store and tries to sell Afro hair. No one wants to buy it. No one wants to buy Afro hair because we've been conditioned to believe that afro hair is not beautiful, not desirable. It's a form of racism still alive today.
Five Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for some language and brief nudity
Running Time: 1 hr. and 35 mins.