Chris Rock gets to the root of the problem early on in his fascinating and often hilarious documentary, Good Hair.
It's all about relaxing, he and his interviewees observe: relaxing African-American hair into hanging loose and free - and, in the process, relaxing the white people around them into feeling less threatened by natural black hair.
And that, Rock offers, is the basis for a multi-billion-dollar industry that gets black people to apply caustic chemicals to their heads and spend thousands of dollars on hair weaves that they can't afford.
In other words, it's about an industry and a society that has convinced black people that they can only be happy if their hair looks like the hair of white people.
The inspiration for Rock's film (directed by Jeff Stilson) was an encounter with his youngest daughter, who tearfully asked him, "Why don't I have good hair?"
That launched Rock on an odyssey that took him from Harlem to Atlanta to India, examining the various aspects of the black hair-care industry. In the process, he opens a window on both a world of commerce and offers an insight into black self-image.
The latter is a tricky bit of business. The people he interviews - everyone from actress Nia Long to rapper Eve to the Rev. Al Sharpton - seldom come right out and say, "I want my hair to look like a white person's hair." But that seems to be the thinking - that straight, flowing hair is more attractive and acceptable than naturally kinky or nappy hair. And that's obviously not a message Rock wants to convey to his daughters.
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