Docs

Good timing for ‘Good Hair’

Good Hair, starring Chris Rock, examines more than just issues regarding hair in the black community; it also examines questions of beauty, identity and economic imbalance. Realscreen caught up with executive producer Nelson George at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about why he thinks they've hit on the right cultural climate for the doc's theatrical release.
September 16, 2009

Good Hair, starring Chris Rock, examines more than just issues regarding hair in the black community; it also examines questions of beauty, identity and economic imbalance. Realscreen caught up with executive producer Nelson George (pictured) at the Toronto International Film Festival to talk about why he thinks they’ve hit on the right cultural climate for the doc’s theatrical release.

Good Hair has been making the festival circuit and will soon begin hitting theaters on October 9. The doc investigates the dangers of the chemicals used to straighten and ‘relax’ hair and the system of exploitation involved in creating weaves, but executive producer Nelson George feels that it’s the film’s honest dialogue about beauty and hair culture that makes it timely.

‘We started this movie in 2007, so Obama was not even on the horizon when we started,’ says George. ‘Now that [Michelle Obama] is first lady and is the global image of beauty and style, the film has more currency and has a weird social dimension about what beauty is. So the film is going to become part of that dialogue about beauty in a number of different ways.’

Though the film looks into the business of weave-making, taking Rock to India where he visits a temple where women donate their hair and a factory where impoverished women prepare the hair for sale to wealthier countries, the film, and its makers, are not judgmental about the people who are buying these locks.

‘I was very judgmental about weaves,’ says George. ‘I’m not so judgmental now because I see it as another kind of adornment. To me it’s kind of like jewelry, the way it’s used by women.’ The doc looks at issues of beauty and self-image, talking to famous faces – such as Nia Long, Raven Symone, Maya Angelou and Al Sharpton – about what hair has meant as part of culture.

George has a history of making short docs and doc series for cable, such as American Gangster and The N Word, as well as writing, producing and directing features and writing non-fiction books on aspects of culture. For him, making his first feature doc was more like writing a book than making a fiction feature. ‘When you write a book you have a premise, you start digging in and if you’re lucky you find out that your subject is richer than you thought,’ says George. ‘It has tentacles and it takes you someplace else.’

‘What I like about our film is that because Chris brings humor, it’s a very funny experience, but underlying all of it is some very strong thematic ideas about commerce and self-image,’ says George. He hopes that if women get anything more out of this film than a chance to make hair, beauty and self-esteem issues a part of public dialogue, it should be the message that relaxer should be reserved for women, not little girls. ‘If we have any impact, if we simply make mothers think twice about putting these things in their daughter’s hair at a young age, I think we’ll have done something good.’

Good Hair is distributed by Roadside Attractions, Liddell Entertainment & KINOSMITH (Canada).

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