New DVDs This Week: Good Hair by Chris Rock

This is bad hair: that ratty, tatty, tangle of hair that has been relaxed, greased and flattened to within an inch of its life sitting atop the heads of lots of African American women (and some men). Since it won't do anything even slightly Vanessa Williams-like (no bouncing curls or windswept bangs), the most common solution is to snatch it back in a pony tail and pretend it's not there. Or to clumsily tie fake braids -- usually in a different color and texture - near the base of several ill-formed strands, creating a minefield of naps and knots.

This is Good Hair: comedian Chris Rock's tongue -in-cheek documentary about the industry that serves the needs of African Americans who want to change their coarse, supposedly hard-to-manage hair for something more pliable, and easily controlled.

Inspired to examine the issue of hair in the black community when one of his young daughters asked about good hair, Rock took the easy road. The film isn't a treatise on the social pressures of African Americans to conform to white America's standard of beauty. Instead, it focuses more on insider jokes from the people who live in a good hair/bad hair universe.

For example, there's humorous patter around a barber shop where patrons joke that the product which straightens their hair is called relaxer because it's relaxing to white people to see African Americans with good hair.

Rock visits a lab where scientists-types demonstrate how quickly the chemicals which make up relaxers and other commonly used hair treatments can eat through a soda pop can (here's a hint: a cool 60 minutes). The chemicals (among them ammonium bisulfate and lye) are dangerous and hazardous to the factory workers and hair stylists who handle them, and to the customers who regularly have the products slathered it all over their heads. Including, as we see in the film, young children. But the risk of cancer and skin diseases seems a price most are willing to pay for a shot at beauty.

Viewers see women in India who cut their long hair off and sell it to be shipped to America where it will be made into extensions and the Hair Battle Royal, a face-off between stylists who create extreme do's, many of which depend on those same extensions.

A host of famous African American women and a sprinkling of men, (Nia Long, Raven-Symoné, Maya Angelou, Ice-T and "the Dalai Lama of relaxed hair" the Reverend Al Sharpton) discuss their struggles with the good hair/bad hair concept (25-year-old Raven-Symoné playfully tugs at her wig of beautiful, full, bouncing curls suggesting her own not-so-good hair is nowhere near the same).

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Olivia Flores Alvarez