Good Hair: Chris Rock & Nia Long Tackle the Roots

The debacle of one having “good hair” vs. “bad hair” has been a constant topic in the homes of African-Americans since before the days of the Afro. What exactly is “good hair”? According to Chris Rock, “good hair” is whatever hair-do being worn at a particular time that makes a woman happy. Rock’s documentary Good Hair chronicles […]

The debacle of one having “good

hair” vs. “bad hair” has been a constant topic in the

homes of African-Americans since before the days of the Afro. What exactly

is “good hair”? According to Chris Rock, “good hair”

is whatever hair-do being worn at a particular time that makes a woman

happy. Rock’s documentary Good Hair chronicles the importance

and popularity of hair relaxers and weaves among women in the African-American

community. The comedian-turned-actor and now fledgling director spoke

to some of his celebrity friends to gather the research for Good

Hair, in addition to voyaging to India to find out exactly where

these “human hair” weaves are manufactured, and doing an extensive

look into the annual Bronner Brother’s International Hair Show that

takes place in Atlanta. Rock travels around the country to reveal the

truth behind the reasons of what Black women (and some Black men) go

through to escape from have “naps.”

Among the guests openly speaking

on their love of “good hair” in the film include actresses

Nia Long, Raven-Symone, Meagan Good, Lauren London

and Sarah Jones; artists Salt-N-Pepa, Ice-T,


, Eve and T-Pain; poet Dr. Maya Angelou;

activist Rev. Al Sharpton; video vixen Melyssa Ford and

music producer and executive Andre Harrell, among others. Rock’s

Good Hair

arrives in theaters nationwide today.

One thing that was impressive was the great caliber of people that you

got to speak on camera about such a sensitive subject. Who was the hardest

person to interview for the documentary?

Chris Rock:

Maya Angelou ‘cause she lives in the town that the Dudley. So we knew

we were gonna be there so getting her was pretty hard. But once we got

her it was pretty great.

Who is this [film] geared towards?

Chris Rock:

Like anything I do it’s kinda geared towards everybody, but it starts

with a pretty Black sensibility. But there’s stuff in there that Black

people don’t know about. Did you know that your relaxer could eat

through a coke can?

Nia Long:

It’s kind of like we want to see the images on the film that we can

relate to. It’s like we want to go and see images on a film or a scripted

piece and say, “Oh my God, I know that feeling.”

Chris, I thought it was horrible when you said that men couldn’t touch

a Black woman’s hair. I didn’t believe it, so I went to a couple

of barbershops and surprisingly that is true. It’s surprising you

was able to pull that element out. Did you know that prior to this project?

Chris Rock:

(laughs) It’s one of those things that we [men] don’t even realize

that we’re doing it at this point because we’re just so used to

not touching the hair.


I think Black men are careful, they don’t just go for it. They give

you a look like is it ok.

Did the underground India hair trip get more dangerous than what the

film led it to be?

Chris Rock:

for India to be so poor, it didn’t feel that dangerous. It was something

about the people that was just relaxing. One thing I did notice being

in India is you don’t see any women walking around at night. They’re

just off the streets because it’s dangerous.

Speaking of weaves, Nia you mentioned that when you wear weaves you

sometimes wear Indian hair. Did you know that so many of the Indian

women were exploited for their hair? Did that concern you at all?

Nia Long:

When I saw those scenes I was like, “Wow, we don’t get that type

of information.” It’s not like they go here’s the history of this

person’s hair. So to actually see culturally what was going on, was

kind of mind-blowing. I felt bad and a little guilty. It’s like we’re

doing this for vanity and these women are doing it as a religion sacrifice.

That’s just so extreme.

Did your daughters come away with feeling ok about their hair after

you did this documentary? (Since it was inspired by them.)

Chris Rock:

They haven’t seen it [entirely], they’ve seen parts of it. They’re

into their hair, to tell you the truth. They love their Afro-puffs.

Are you going to put a relaxer in their hair?

Chris Rock:

In my daughter’s hair? No, I mean when they’re teenagers what can

you do? I mean they’re your kids, but they’re not your kids anymore.

Nia, with all of the different hair that you’ve had over your career,

do you find that you move through different projects more smoothly when

your hair is more straighter?

Nia Long:

Not really. We were at the L.A. premier [of Good Hair] and we all walked

down the carpet, there were probably about eight prominent Black actresses

all around the same age and everybody had the same hair. And I immediately

took my weave out the very next day. I thought this is ridiculous, because

clearly there’s some sort of message that we’re all getting that’s

subconscious and it’s kind of in there and I was like f**k it I’m

done. Chris said the same thing when he saw me [with my natural hair.]

Chris Rock:

Now your beauty is original. Before you were like Starbucks—good coffee

but found everywhere.

Nia Long:

Now I’m like Pete’s Coffee [laughs]. Stronger and harder to find.

What is “good hair”?

Chris Rock:

Whatever hair makes you happy is good hair.

One of the things I liked about the film was that it also gave the man’s

perspective. Can you tell as a father, as an actor and a movie director

how you purged the subject from a male’s perspective?

Chris Rock:

I knew going in that as a man I had to be neutral, I couldn’t be judgmental.

If I had gone either way for or against, I’d be hated by women all

over. My preferences about hair are not important, I am a reporter and

I’m just reporting a story.

Did you approach the Bronner Brothers for this film? What was their


Chris Rock:

I did approach the Bronner Borthers, yes. They were happy. They [already]

have a ton of money. This thing has been going on for sixty years and

I’m sure I’m not the first person to approach them for something

like this. They gave us so much access and they were very easy to deal

with. There wasn’t any drama.

Did you inform the parents who were putting perms in their daughter’s

hair at young ages the dangers of the treatment?

Chris Rock:

We kind of just reported. I mean they know it’s dangerous.

Nia Long:

It was surprising to me, as a mother, to see a three-year-old getting

her hair relaxed. When you’re living in New York or Chicago, the bigger

cities—our sophistication level and our awareness level is so much

higher. And to see that happening still in the South was like Oh My

God. I’m sure it happens in New York [too], but I think that most

women who are working in a cosmopolitan city and are strong about their

choices and out hair choices—we kind of know better. It’s funny

because one of my best girlfriend’s who has an eight-year-old daughter

said to me that she had just gotten a relaxer to put on her daughter’s

hair and after she saw the movie she decided not to use it.

Do you allow your son to say the term “good hair” in the archaic

way that we grew up thinking that good hair was wavy and straight and


Nia Long:

He doesn’t know how to articulate what he’s feeling. But he will

say things to me like, “Mommy, why do you have a weave?” Or “What’s

that white stuff you put on your hair?” And I really had to explain

it to him. Thank God for Obama because he has an Afro and I tell him

that he needs to wear his proud.

Were there a lot of things that you loved about the unedited cut of

the film that you had to cut out?

Chris Rock:

Well when we started we had men too, it wasn’t just concentrated on

women. But we felt that no one cared about men’s hair. The only thing

they cared about men was how they felt about women’s hair.

There are a lot of women of other ethnicities who have a similar history

of wearing weaves and depending on relaxers and/or perms, did you consider

including them?

Chris Rock:

I’m Black, and I’m already skirting the line as a man shooting a

movie like this.

Chris can you talk about Will You Be My Black Friend? Are you

working with Oprah Winfrey on the project? What character will

you be playing?

Chris Rock:

I guess I’ll be the Black friend. There’s an article that was in

GQ about a year ago about a white guy who was getting married and

he realized that he didn’t have any Black friends. It’s embarrassing

for him and he realizes that he’s not as hip as he thought he is since

he doesn’t have any Black friends. We don’t have a script or anything,

we’re just going with the concept.

What was the experience like being on The Oprah Show for this

particular project?

Chris Rock:

This was the best time I’ve ever been on her show because the topic

was so big. The movie is bigger than me. Normally me and the movie are

running neck and neck. The topic is bigger than me, I almost felt like

I was in the audience.

Was there anyone that you wanted to be in the film that you couldn’t

get? How easy was it for everyone to talk about their hair experience?

Chris Rock:

For every person in the movie, there’s probably two or three people

that got cut. We really wanted Diana Ross, she was the only one

we made the second and third call to.

What is “good hair” for you?

Chris Rock:

The same hair style doesn’t work for everyone, that’s when it gets

a little murky. There’s all of these Black women walking around looking

like Jane Fonda and like Diane Cannon—that’s what

most Black girls in L.A. look like. [laughs] Whatever hair works for

you [is good]. I had the jerry curl, it didn’t work for me—it was

too drippy. [laughs].

Can you talk about getting funding for this project? Was it an easy

or hard sell?

Chris Rock:

It was very hard. Nobody ever wanted to make this movie. I’ve been

trying to make this movie for years. Actually I started doing the research

for this on my money. Then HBO saw I was serious, and they stepped in.

Did you have any feelings towards the man at near the end of the film

that said he’d rather have a White woman?

Chris Rock:

That was him; he has to be in the movie… it wasn’t only pleasant

comments made.

Nia Long:

That’s a real attitude though that exists among Black men. Just like

there are Black women who say they’d rather date White men because

they treat them better.

Nia, how did you get to the point in your career where you can rock

a short pixie cut and a long curly hair do switching back and forth


Nia Long:

My mother. She’s strong, and she’s got tattoos on her face, and

she’s got dreads and she’s a hippie and she does not care what anyone

thinks of her. When she walks into the room she owns it, but she’s

also like very sweet. It’s not a rebellion thing, it’s just who

she is. My mother was wearing leg warmers when they were out of style

and she’s still wearing them now twenty years later, and they’re

back in style. When you grow up in a house with a mother like that you

take on some of those attitudes. Our style is totally different, but

she’s given me a true appreciation for Black women, Black beauty [and]

Black culture.

Are there any Black hair dos that should be kept in the back and not

make a comeback?

Chris Rock:

The jerry curl should be left behind. We’ve come a long way since

the jerry curl, and it was very hard taking it out. We actually [also]

assembled a round table of men who still had jerry curls in L.A. You

know the jerry curl is like the Black version of the Mullet and these

guys spoke about you know having to know the right place where to go

get your hair done.

How did you determine like where to go for research since there’s

a lot of hair that’s considered good?

Chris Rock:

The original thought, even thought I have my daughters in here, was

the hair show. So it grew from the hair show. I didn’t want to do

the historical angle with Madame CJ WalkerSoledad

[O’Brien] can do that. I wanted to do something more entertaining

and contemporary for movie theaters.

What do you think is more the root why it still does more economically

when people where weave to get ahead? Is it politics, professional decision

or sexual orientation?

Chris Rock:

I remember when I was putting all of that stuff in my hair. I thought

I’m famous, so this is what I was supposed to do. Before the Obamas,

the Jacksons were the first Black family and they got rid of

their Afros as soon as they started making money. So I thought whatever

the Jacksons have—that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Nia Long:

A lot of it is trends, but I think in Hollywood we have a pressure to

look a certain way. It’s also when you get on set there’s usually

a white hair stylist in the trailer who does not know how to do natural

hair. She was not trained to do natural hair. She doesn’t know how

to use a pressing comb. It’s getting easier and easier to have your

own team and people there that know how to cater to our needs. But its

definitely challenging. Like if you have a shower scene in a movie and

you have a press and curl, and then the next scene you’re supposed

to be in the park running with your hair flying in the wind—you’re

gonna have some problems and production is gonna be p##### because it’s

gonna take an hour and a half to make that switch over. That’s part

of it. But we do have to look at whether we’re trying to conform or

deny our natural beauty. You have to ask yourself that question. And

if the answer is no I just like my hair like this and I want to wear

a weave then I think it’s fine. I think it’s just a fashion choice.

Although you don’t say your preference in the film Chris, what do

you prefer?

Chris Rock:

I think whatever works for you. Honestly I’ve seen girls with long

hair…Amber Rose—I saw her with no hair> and you can’t

stop looking at her, right. So it’s whatever works.