Good Hair

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Good Hair
Good hair poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jeff Stilson
Produced by Jenny Hunter
Kevin O'Donnell
Written by Lance Crouther
Paul Marchand
Chris Rock
Chuck Sklar
Jeff Stilson
Starring Chris Rock
Nia Long
Paul Mooney
Sarah Jones
Kerry Washington
Salli Richardson-Whitfield
Lauren London
Melyssa Ford
Narrated by Chris Rock
Music by Marcus Miller
Cinematography Cliff Charles
Mark Henderson
Edited by Paul Marchand
Greg Nash
Distributed by Roadside Attractions
Release dates
  • January 18, 2009 (2009-01-18) (Sundance)
  • October 9, 2009 (2009-10-09) (United States)
Running time
96 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $4,028,558[1]

Good Hair is a 2009 American comedy documentary film produced by Chris Rock Productions and HBO Films, starring and narrated by comedian Chris Rock.[2][3] Premiering at the Sundance Film Festival on January 18, 2009, Good Hair had a limited release to theaters in the United States by Roadside Attractions on October 9, 2009, and opened across the country on October 23.

The film focuses on the issue of how African-American women have perceived their hair and historically styled it. The film explores the current styling industry for black women, images of what is considered acceptable and desirable for African-American women's hair in the United States, and their relation to African American culture.[3]


According to Rock, he was inspired to make the movie after his three-year-old daughter Lola asked him, "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?" She has curly, wiry hair typical of many people of African descent. He realized she had already absorbed the perception among some blacks that curly hair was not "good".[3]

Rock delves into the $9 billion black hair industry, and visits such places as beauty salons, barbershops, and hair styling conventions to explore popular approaches to styling. He visits scientific laboratories to learn the science behind chemical relaxers that straighten hair.[3][4]

Rock intended to explore the topic seriously, but with humor.[4] The movie features interviews from hair care industry businesspeople, stylists (Derek J, Jason Griggers and others) and their customers, and celebrities such as Ice-T, Nia Long, Paul Mooney, T-Pain, Raven-Symoné, Maya Angelou, KRS-One, Salt-n-Pepa, Kerry Washington, Eve, Reverend Al Sharpton, Andre Harrell, Tracie Thoms, Lauren London, and Meagan Good.[3][5] These public figures discuss their experiences with their own hair, and the issue of how different types and characteristics of black hair are perceived in the black community.


Rock explores why black women adopt so many different styles for their hair. Techniques designed to straighten hair appear to be intended to give it characteristics of European (or "white") hair. Other styles create elaborate designs related to African traditions and recent innovations in fashion. Rock is quoted as saying, “I knew women wanted to be beautiful, but I didn’t know the lengths they would go to, the time they would spend – and not complain about it. In fact, they appear to look forward to it.”[6]

Interviews with public figures[edit]

The film features interviews with prominent entertainers and other public figures, including Nia Long, Ice-T, Raven-Symoné, Maya Angelou, Salt-n-Pepa, Eve, Tracie Thoms, and Reverend Al Sharpton. They provide opinions on "good hair" and recount personal experiences in dealing with their hair.

Nia Long says, "There’s always this sort of pressure within the black community like, if you have good hair, you’re prettier or better than the brown-skinned girl that wears the Afro or the dreads or the natural hairstyle."

In Jeannette Catsoulis' review of the film, she notes that Rock questions why African-American women adopt a concept of "beauty" that is not based on the natural characteristics of their hair. Some endure sometimes-painful hair treatments in order to achieve this definition of beauty. If the treatments, such as hair relaxers, are done improperly, they can cause hair loss or burns on the scalp.

Al Sharpton says, "We wear our economic oppression on our heads." He refers to the hair business, which yields billions of dollars in revenues, has shifted from African-American manufacturers to Asian manufacturers. Although the products are targeted to black consumers, Asians are making the profits.

To gain insights into the cultural issue, Rock also interviewed students and faculty at Santa Monica High School, customers in hair salons and barbershops, and hair dealers. He visited Dudley Products, one of the few companies owned by African Americans that makes hair products for the African-American community.


The film met with positive reviews from critics. Good Hair currently holds a 95% "certified fresh" rating on aggregate review website Rotten Tomatoes based on 78 reviews, with an average score of 7.4/10.[7] Another review aggregation website, Metacritic, based on 100 reviews from mainstream critics, gave the film an average score of 72/100 based on 27 reviews.[8] It received the Special Jury Prize Documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.[9]

Good Hair opened in limited release on October 9, 2009, becoming the fourteenth-highest grossing film for the weekend of October 9–11, 2009 with $1,039,220 in 186 theaters with a $5,587 average.[10] The film expanded to 466 theaters on October 23.[11]


The documentary was criticized[by whom?] for not taking into account how the politics of African-American women's hair is involved in racism, sexism and classism.[citation needed] Moreover, the diversity of African-American hair is not recognized as well as individual agency is changing one's hair.[citation needed][neutrality is disputed] Alynda Wheat of Entertainment Weekly shares how African-American women are "not anthropological subjects, and we don’t like being treated as curiosities."[12] Many critics[who?] also note that African-American women are not alone in changing their hair styles.[citation needed] In his review, Roger Ebert stated "Few people of any race wear completely natural hair. If they did, we would be a nation of Unabombers."[13] Rock responded to critics on the Oprah Winfrey Show, saying "it's not important what's on top of your head—it's important what's inside of your head. That is the theme of the movie."[14]

Recognition and honors[edit]

The film received the Special Jury Prize for a Documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.[15]

See also[edit]

Lawsuit from Regina Kimbell[edit]

On October 5, 2009, documentary filmmaker Regina Kimbell filed a lawsuit in a Los Angeles court against Chris Rock Productions, HBO Films, and Good Hair's American and international distributors. Kimbell charged that Rock's film is an illegal infringement of her similarly themed documentary, My Nappy Roots: A Journey Through Black Hair-itage, which she says she screened for Rock in 2007.[16] Kimbell sought an injunction against the wide release of Good Hair, but a federal judge allowed Rock's film to be released as scheduled.[17]

Rock on The Oprah Winfrey Show[edit]

Rock appeared on the popular TV show hosted by Oprah Winfrey to promote and discuss his film. During his second appearance, a roundtable of prominent black women, some from the fashion industry, discussed the issue of hair and self-esteem. Mikki Taylor, beauty and cover editor for Essence magazine, said that the term "good hair" is no longer relevant to many young black women. She believes that what is now considered "good hair" is healthy hair. She questioned,

"When will our hair cease to be political? Every other group of women can do what they want with their hair, and it’s not seen as making a statement. We’re over that, and we wish everyone else would be over it, too."[18]

Ayana Byrd, an editor for Glamour magazine, said, "The point is not to say hair is good or bad, it’s to say that once we work through the history behind our hair, we can get to a place where it can just be hair."[18]

During the discussion, Rock noted that many women used hair relaxers to straighten their hair. Given its cost, it has sometimes been called “creamy crack.” Women of other ethnicities get "permanents" to curl their hair. Black women use similar products to straighten curly hair. He said that sodium hydroxide, the active ingredient in relaxers, is strong enough to burn through a soda can if left in the solution for long enough. It can damage women's hair or scalps. Rock pleaded with parents to stop exposing their young daughters to relaxers. He argued they should not have to worry about such styling questions before becoming teenagers.[18]

Historical view of "natural hair"[edit]

In her 2009 article, "Hairitage: Women Writing Race in Children’s Literature," the literary critic Dianne Johnson notes an early 1900s advertisement:

"Once upon a time there lived a Good Fairy whose daily thoughts were of pretty little boys and girls and of beautiful women and handsome men and of how she might make beautiful those unfortunate ones whom nature had not given long, wavy hair and a smooth, lovely complexion” (Johnson, 338).

This ad was for hair products for black women developed by the highly successful African-American entrepreneur, Madam C.J. Walker. Her advertisement played on the idea that curly hair was something to "be fixed." Johnson contends that more than 100 years later, many African-American women still overvalue straight hair.

Johnson notes that the characteristic (fill in blank), coarse hair of many ethnic Africans had historically been referred to in the United States during historic times as "nappy." As the term originated during the years when African Americans were held as slaves, especially in the South, it retains a negative connotation. Whites associated the natural, coarse hair of Africans with their second-class status as slaves and non-citizens.

Johnson explores whether white people understand the concept of “good hair” and its layers of meaning. She notes a controversy that arose in 1998 Brooklyn, New York when a young white schoolteacher, Ruth Sherman, shared the recently published children's book, Nappy Hair, with her predominately black elementary school students. (The book had received excellent reviews and won three awards, from Parenting Magazine, the Marion Vannett Ridgway 1998 Honor Book Award, and the Paterson Prize- 1998 Books for Young People from the Poetry Center.)[19]

Although the book was written by Carolivia Herron, an African-American woman, and based on black traditions, some members of the black community objected to its use in the school by a white teacher. Some objected to the book's cover, which featured a young black girl with a big Afro. While some residents demanded that Sherman removed from the school, most parents supported Sherman and her use of the book (Johnson, 343).[20]

The Washington Post reported that Herron said black students were her target audience for the children's book:

"I wrote it delighting in nappy hair," said Herron, who is black. "I love my own nappy hair and the stories my uncle used to tell me about it. It was a celebration, and I had no idea it would be political. I am a '60s person and thought we had already dealt with this problem of being ashamed of our hair."[20] At her request, due to the uproar and threats, Sherman transferred to a different district.

Discrimination related to hair styles[edit]

During the first half of the 20th century in the United States, a period with more emphasis on dress codes than that of the 21st century, both white and black women in certain industries or businesses were restricted in their choice of hair styles. As an example of that period, black women working as stewardesses on American Airlines were prohibited from wearing an African-based style of braids. In Rogers v. American Airlines, the court ruled in favor of the American Airlines and allowed them to ban women wearing their hair in a braided fashion (Crawford, 10). Since the late 20th century, many restrictions have been loosened and African-American women wear a variety of hair styles in numerous professions.


  1. ^ "Good Hair (the documentary) (2009)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 
  2. ^ ‘Good Hair’ Trailer
  3. ^ a b c d e Chris Rock's 'Good Hair'
  4. ^ a b "Chris Rock gets to the root of 'Good Hair'", CNN, 5 February 2009
  5. ^ Good Hair
  6. ^ Puente, Maria (October 25, 2009). "Chris Rock's 'Good Hair' gets tangled up in controversy". USA Today. 
  7. ^ "Good Hair Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 7, 2009. 
  8. ^ "Good Hair (2009): Reviews". Metacritic. 2009-10-09. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 
  9. ^ 2009 Sundance Film Festival
  10. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for October 9–11, 2009". Box Office Mojo. 2009-10-11. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 
  11. ^ "Good Hair (2009)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2009-10-19. 
  12. ^ "Good 'Hair?' Hardly. How Chris Rock gets it wrong". 
  13. ^ "GOOD HAIR (2009)". 
  14. ^ "Chris Rock Responds". 
  15. ^ 2009 Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival Official website
  16. ^ Associated Press, "Filmmaker sues Chris Rock over 'Good Hair'", 8 October 2009, Retrieved 8 October 2009
  17. ^ "Judge refuses to block Chris Rock film"
  18. ^ a b c Cite error: The named reference puente was invoked but never defined
  19. ^ "Nappy Hair:Carolivia Herron official website". 
  20. ^ a b Liz Leyden, "N.Y. Teacher Runs Into a Racial Divide," Washington Post, 3 December 1998

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]