Star comic Chris Rock explores the aesthetics and economics of African-American hair. He asks pointed questions as an investigative entertainer and ethnographer. He goes to beauty salons and barbershops, where he quizzes black women and black men about the customs of slathering on hydrogen peroxide to achieve unnatural straight hair, and weaving in extensions of naturally straight hair imported from India. Rock is always mindful of white beauty ideals defining “good hair,” although he doesn’t spoil this self-billed “expose” by bringing in scholars or scolds to brand the practice as racial self-loathing. It’s a black thing that not all blacks can understand. One throughline is following teams preparing to compete in the Bronner Bros. Hair Show in Atlanta. At the Hair Battle Royale contestants showcase hairstyling skills by staging elaborate stage routines that recall voguing. First-time director Jeff Stilson earlier wrote multiple episodes of “The Chris Rock Show,” “The Daily Show,” “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Da Ali G Show.” Executive produced by Nelson George, author of “Blackface: Reflections on African Americans in the Movies.” With Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, Raven Symone, Maya Angelou, Salt-N-Pepa, Eve and Reverend Al Sharpton offering testimony, often hilarious. 90m. (Bill Stamets)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.