Sunday, September 12, 2010


Perhaps it is best to approach this mildly endearing documentary with the knowledge that it is made by Chris Rock firmly in the back of your head. As a comedian, Rock lacks skill as an interviewer, and is largely unable to get his guests and subjects to state their opinions clearly, allowing them to waffle in order to get on friendly terms with him. He always opts for the charming quip over insightful questioning.

Despite this inherent flaw, Rock has pulled together more than enough material for a wide survey of the nature of black, or nap hair culture in America, and much of the coherence lost in the interview process is revived through clever editing. This is not a scornful documentary, even though there are numerous ethical grievances to be attributed to many salon practises (buying human hair from temples and running sodium hydroxide over the scalps of salon-goers to smooth out the tresses). This seems, rather, to be a portrait of a female love affair with personal improvement.

It falls in neatly with a number of other concerned commentaries on the increase of image-obsession, low self-esteem, and their impacts on our increasingly self-conscious young girls. Rock’s own daughter seems to be overwhelmed by the pressures to be pretty and have straight ‘white’ hair. It is this heart at the centre of the documentary that elevates an oft-ridiculous industry to the status of a genuine threat to girls, and Rock’s daughter. Much of the credibility and urgency of this film is lent through Rock’s very genuine concern, his sensitive parental trepidation a very welcome antidote to many of the hilarious, bombastic characters who are leading in the world of hair. 6.5

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