Good Hair: Chris Rock & Nia Long Tackle the Roots
The debacle of one having good
hair vs. bad hair has been a constant topic in the
homes of African-Americans since before the days of the Afro. What exactly
is good hair? According to Chris Rock, good hair
is whatever hair-do being worn at a particular time that makes a woman
happy. Rocks documentary Good Hair chronicles the importance
and popularity of hair relaxers and weaves among women in the African-American
community. The comedian-turned-actor and now fledgling director spoke
to some of his celebrity friends to gather the research for Good
Hair, in addition to voyaging to India to find out exactly where
these human hair weaves are manufactured, and doing an extensive
look into the annual Bronner Brothers International Hair Show that
takes place in Atlanta. Rock travels around the country to reveal the
truth behind the reasons of what Black women (and some Black men) go
through to escape from have naps.
Among the guests openly speaking
on their love of good hair in the film include actresses
Nia Long, Raven-Symone, Meagan Good, Lauren London
and Sarah Jones; artists Salt-N-Pepa, Ice-T,
KRS-One, Eve and T-Pain; poet Dr. Maya Angelou;
activist Rev. Al Sharpton; video vixen Melyssa Ford and
music producer and executive Andre Harrell, among others. Rocks
Good Hair arrives in theaters nationwide today.
One thing that was impressive was the great caliber of people that you
got to speak on camera about such a sensitive subject. Who was the hardest
person to interview for the documentary?
Maya Angelou cause she lives in the town that the Dudley. So we knew
we were gonna be there so getting her was pretty hard. But once we got
her it was pretty great.
Who is this [film] geared towards?
Like anything I do its kinda geared towards everybody, but it starts
with a pretty Black sensibility. But theres stuff in there that Black
people dont know about. Did you know that your relaxer could eat
through a coke can?
Its kind of like we want to see the images on the film that we can
relate to. Its like we want to go and see images on a film or a scripted
piece and say, Oh my God, I know that feeling.
Chris, I thought it was horrible when you said that men couldnt touch
a Black womans hair. I didnt believe it, so I went to a couple
of barbershops and surprisingly that is true. Its surprising you
was able to pull that element out. Did you know that prior to this project?
(laughs) Its one of those things that we [men] dont even realize
that were doing it at this point because were just so used to
not touching the hair.
I think Black men are careful, they dont just go for it. They give
you a look like is it ok.
Did the underground India hair trip get more dangerous than what the
film led it to be?
for India to be so poor, it didnt feel that dangerous. It was something
about the people that was just relaxing. One thing I did notice being
in India is you dont see any women walking around at night. Theyre
just off the streets because its dangerous.
Speaking of weaves, Nia you mentioned that when you wear weaves you
sometimes wear Indian hair. Did you know that so many of the Indian
women were exploited for their hair? Did that concern you at all?
When I saw those scenes I was like, Wow, we dont get that type
of information. Its not like they go heres the history of this
persons hair. So to actually see culturally what was going on, was
kind of mind-blowing. I felt bad and a little guilty. Its like were
doing this for vanity and these women are doing it as a religion sacrifice.
Thats just so extreme.
Did your daughters come away with feeling ok about their hair after
you did this documentary? (Since it was inspired by them.)
They havent seen it [entirely], theyve seen parts of it. Theyre
into their hair, to tell you the truth. They love their Afro-puffs.
Are you going to put a relaxer in their hair?
In my daughters hair? No, I mean when theyre teenagers what can
you do? I mean theyre your kids, but theyre not your kids anymore.
Nia, with all of the different hair that youve had over your career,
do you find that you move through different projects more smoothly when
your hair is more straighter?
Not really. We were at the L.A. premier [of Good Hair] and we all walked
down the carpet, there were probably about eight prominent Black actresses
all around the same age and everybody had the same hair. And I immediately
took my weave out the very next day. I thought this is ridiculous, because
clearly theres some sort of message that were all getting thats
subconscious and its kind of in there and I was like f**k it Im
done. Chris said the same thing when he saw me [with my natural hair.]
Now your beauty is original. Before you were like Starbucksgood coffee
but found everywhere.
Now Im like Petes Coffee [laughs]. Stronger and harder to find.
What is good hair?
Whatever hair makes you happy is good hair.
One of the things I liked about the film was that it also gave the mans
perspective. Can you tell as a father, as an actor and a movie director
how you purged the subject from a males perspective?
I knew going in that as a man I had to be neutral, I couldnt be judgmental.
If I had gone either way for or against, Id be hated by women all
over. My preferences about hair are not important, I am a reporter and
Im just reporting a story.
Did you approach the Bronner Brothers for this film? What was their
I did approach the Bronner Borthers, yes. They were happy. They [already]
have a ton of money. This thing has been going on for sixty years and
Im sure Im not the first person to approach them for something
like this. They gave us so much access and they were very easy to deal
with. There wasnt any drama.
Did you inform the parents who were putting perms in their daughters
hair at young ages the dangers of the treatment?
We kind of just reported. I mean they know its dangerous.
It was surprising to me, as a mother, to see a three-year-old getting
her hair relaxed. When youre living in New York or Chicago, the bigger
citiesour sophistication level and our awareness level is so much
higher. And to see that happening still in the South was like Oh My
God. Im sure it happens in New York [too], but I think that most
women who are working in a cosmopolitan city and are strong about their
choices and out hair choiceswe kind of know better. Its funny
because one of my best girlfriends who has an eight-year-old daughter
said to me that she had just gotten a relaxer to put on her daughters
hair and after she saw the movie she decided not to use it.
Do you allow your son to say the term good hair in the archaic
way that we grew up thinking that good hair was wavy and straight and
He doesnt know how to articulate what hes feeling. But he will
say things to me like, Mommy, why do you have a weave? Or Whats
that white stuff you put on your hair? And I really had to explain
it to him. Thank God for Obama because he has an Afro and I tell him
that he needs to wear his proud.
Were there a lot of things that you loved about the unedited cut of
the film that you had to cut out?
Well when we started we had men too, it wasnt just concentrated on
women. But we felt that no one cared about mens hair. The only thing
they cared about men was how they felt about womens hair.
There are a lot of women of other ethnicities who have a similar history
of wearing weaves and depending on relaxers and/or perms, did you consider
Im Black, and Im already skirting the line as a man shooting a
movie like this.
Chris can you talk about Will You Be My Black Friend? Are you
working with Oprah Winfrey on the project? What character will
you be playing?
I guess Ill be the Black friend. Theres an article that was in
GQ about a year ago about a white guy who was getting married and
he realized that he didnt have any Black friends. Its embarrassing
for him and he realizes that hes not as hip as he thought he is since
he doesnt have any Black friends. We dont have a script or anything,
were just going with the concept.
What was the experience like being on The Oprah Show for this
This was the best time Ive ever been on her show because the topic
was so big. The movie is bigger than me. Normally me and the movie are
running neck and neck. The topic is bigger than me, I almost felt like
I was in the audience.
Was there anyone that you wanted to be in the film that you couldnt
get? How easy was it for everyone to talk about their hair experience?
For every person in the movie, theres probably two or three people
that got cut. We really wanted Diana Ross, she was the only one
we made the second and third call to.
What is good hair for you?
The same hair style doesnt work for everyone, thats when it gets
a little murky. Theres all of these Black women walking around looking
like Jane Fonda and like Diane Cannonthats what
most Black girls in L.A. look like. [laughs] Whatever hair works for
you [is good]. I had the jerry curl, it didnt work for meit was
too drippy. [laughs].
Can you talk about getting funding for this project? Was it an easy
or hard sell?
It was very hard. Nobody ever wanted to make this movie. Ive been
trying to make this movie for years. Actually I started doing the research
for this on my money. Then HBO saw I was serious, and they stepped in.
Did you have any feelings towards the man at near the end of the film
that said hed rather have a White woman?
That was him; he has to be in the movie it wasnt only pleasant
Thats a real attitude though that exists among Black men. Just like
there are Black women who say theyd rather date White men because
they treat them better.
Nia, how did you get to the point in your career where you can rock
a short pixie cut and a long curly hair do switching back and forth
My mother. Shes strong, and shes got tattoos on her face, and
shes got dreads and shes a hippie and she does not care what anyone
thinks of her. When she walks into the room she owns it, but shes
also like very sweet. Its not a rebellion thing, its just who
she is. My mother was wearing leg warmers when they were out of style
and shes still wearing them now twenty years later, and theyre
back in style. When you grow up in a house with a mother like that you
take on some of those attitudes. Our style is totally different, but
shes given me a true appreciation for Black women, Black beauty [and]
Are there any Black hair dos that should be kept in the back and not
make a comeback?
The jerry curl should be left behind. Weve come a long way since
the jerry curl, and it was very hard taking it out. We actually [also]
assembled a round table of men who still had jerry curls in L.A. You
know the jerry curl is like the Black version of the Mullet and these
guys spoke about you know having to know the right place where to go
get your hair done.
How did you determine like where to go for research since theres
a lot of hair thats considered good?
The original thought, even thought I have my daughters in here, was
the hair show. So it grew from the hair show. I didnt want to do
the historical angle with Madame CJ WalkerSoledad
[OBrien] can do that. I wanted to do something more entertaining
and contemporary for movie theaters.
What do you think is more the root why it still does more economically
when people where weave to get ahead? Is it politics, professional decision
or sexual orientation?
I remember when I was putting all of that stuff in my hair. I thought
Im famous, so this is what I was supposed to do. Before the Obamas,
the Jacksons were the first Black family and they got rid of
their Afros as soon as they started making money. So I thought whatever
the Jacksons havethats what youre supposed to do.
A lot of it is trends, but I think in Hollywood we have a pressure to
look a certain way. Its also when you get on set theres usually
a white hair stylist in the trailer who does not know how to do natural
hair. She was not trained to do natural hair. She doesnt know how
to use a pressing comb. Its getting easier and easier to have your
own team and people there that know how to cater to our needs. But its
definitely challenging. Like if you have a shower scene in a movie and
you have a press and curl, and then the next scene youre supposed
to be in the park running with your hair flying in the windyoure
gonna have some problems and production is gonna be pissed because its
gonna take an hour and a half to make that switch over. Thats part
of it. But we do have to look at whether were trying to conform or
deny our natural beauty. You have to ask yourself that question. And
if the answer is no I just like my hair like this and I want to wear
a weave then I think its fine. I think its just a fashion choice.
Although you dont say your preference in the film Chris, what do
I think whatever works for you. Honestly Ive seen girls with long
hair Amber RoseI saw her with no hair> and you cant
stop looking at her, right. So its whatever works.