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Originally published October 22, 2009 at 3:00 PM | Page modified October 23, 2009 at 12:44 PM

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Movie review

'Good Hair' brushes lightly over the topic of African-American women's hair

A review of the entertaining documentary "Good Hair," directed by Jeff Stilson and hosted by comedian Chris Rock, which pokes good-natured fun at the excesses of what many black women do with their hair.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Good Hair,' a documentary featuring Chris Rock, directed by Jeff Stilson. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some language including sex and drug references, and brief partial nudity. Meridian, Parkway Plaza.

A grinning Chris Rock poses a question to a group of companionable African-American gentlemen at a neighborhood barbershop: "When's the last time you touched a black woman's hair?" One pipes up promptly. "It was 1986," he says, "just before the market crash."

The entertaining documentary "Good Hair," directed by Jeff Stilson and hosted by Rock, pokes good-natured fun at the excesses of black women's hair: the relaxers, the elaborate weaves, the time, the expense and the end result, which may affect life in unexpected ways. ("Weave sex is a little awkward," notes one woman.)

Along the way, the film dips into some weighty topics: racial identity (Rock notes that relaxers, which straighten African-American hair, "relax white people"), cultural exploitation (we see women in India being sheared of their hair in a religious rite, with the hair then sold for profit), the potential dangers of exposure to harsh chemicals, particularly for children. A lab-coat-clad scientist, interviewed by Rock, expressed shock at the idea that sodium hydroxide (the main chemical in relaxers) might be put on somebody's head, and demonstrates that it can dissolve an aluminum can. (Rock: "That can's got a good perm.")

It's rich food for thought, though you wonder why little attention is given to the idea that perhaps some women relax their hair because it's easier to style that way, or that elaborate attention to hair is hardly exclusive to black women. But Rock's cheerful, amused presence keeps the film light, as does the choice of a central theme: the vast Bronner Bros. Hair Show, an annual event in Atlanta that features thousands of hair professionals and an epic Hair Battle Royale in which hairdressers dance, preen, wear elaborate costumes, appear upside down and underwater, and very incidentally cut some hair.

It's fun to watch Rock's incredulous reaction to all of this, and to see the four competitors prepare (some by meticulous rehearsal, some by getting Botoxed). But you can't help agreeing with one of the models, about the spectacle: "We need to bring it back to being about hair."

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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