Thursday, October 15, 2009

I agree, Amanda.

In his review of Chris Rock's latest film Good Hair, Brian Prisco of Pajiba wrote the following. Emphases mine:

Good Hair follows a smart path from a simple question: what does it mean for a black person to have good hair? Make no mistake, this question — and this film — is meant for a black audience. That’s not to say a person of a different race couldn’t enjoy or appreciate it, but Rock is making the active decision to put the question to his people for his people.

Then there was Bob Cannon's concern in his review for Moviefone:

The question is, can a film this ethnocentric cross enough racial and social lines to approach the box office numbers of Michael Moore, the gold standard in successful documentary filmmaking?

Oh, was that the question?

My first reaction was, I have never seen a review of any of the majority of American movies that states, "this film is meant for a white audience," even though that statement would be accurate. Chris Rock, along with any other multi-million earning black performer, is not successful solely because of a black audience. Case in point: the first people I ever heard quoting Chris Rock in my presence were two white male teenagers in the late 90s. I don't think any of my black female friends have ever quoted Chris Rock to me.

My second reaction was akin to the feelings of Margaret from Jezebel. Emphases mine:

Almost every critic praises Good Hair, but for the most part, their reviews stick to a summary of the film and analysis of Rock as host/narrator. Several say they found themselves surprised by the information presented - possibly because, judging from photos found online, none of them reviewers actually have black hair. While this latter fact doesn't disqualify them from critiquing the quality of the film, the reviews do come from an outsider's perspective, like The New York Times' take, which notes, "One of the happy consequences of Good Hair should be a radical increase in white-woman empathy for their black sisters."

However, unlike Margaret, I do think that the reviewers' lack of black hair, or more precisely, their lack of knowledge about and historical perspective on black hair, does disqualify them from accurate critiquing the quality of the film. For instance, when Brian writes the following,

There’s a heartrending scene where Rock interviews five high school girls about what it means to look successful. Four of the girls are overweight with shiny straight tresses, and one adorable gal who looks like a young Jill Scott sits in the center with a subdued Afro. The larger girls then use her as an example — “no offense, you look cute but…” — of how to look unprofessional. As the girls explain how women with Afros don’t look trustworthy or successful and how they imply a disregard for rules or proper fashion, the camera pans in on the young girl quietly sitting sadly.

he doesn't notice that Chris Rock doesn't bother to question who decides what is "trustworthy or successful" or what is in "proper fashion." It's not like black women are running Fortune 500 companies. Okay, except for one Ursula Burns, who seems to have been successful in her ascent to the top of Xerox. And her hair also happens to be natural.

Also, thanks for the "overweight" qualifier. Always relevant when writing about black women.

Or when Brian writes,

Rock bookends his movie with the Bronner Brothers International Hair Show in Atlanta, GA. Having seen Blow Dry, I knew that hairstylists would go to ape-shit lengths to sculpt Barbies like a Food Network Cake Challenge. Having also seen Stomp the Yard, Drumline, and Snaps, I should have known that black people would take this to levels of sublime showoffsmanship which would make a peacock blush. But you’ve also seen those films and shows. Can you blame them? That shit’s bananas. (I don’t speak jive.)

he shows his behind by asserting that he knows black people because he saw and Stomp the Yard and Drumline? In the words of Angry Asian Man, that's racist! FYI, I don't speak jive either, turkey.

As if I know about white people because I saw Fired Up or Juno or Never Been Kissed. If Brian or Bob, or any reviewer, had mentioned School Daze, I would give them partial credit. Brian also neglects to mention Jason Griggers, the blindingly white stylist in the movie, who is favored to win the hair styling competition.

So who is the Amanda starring in the title of this post? She is one of the people who commented under Brian's review, and I share her sentiments. Emphases mine:

. . . My only concern is that you (apparently) asserted that the movie is meant for a black audience, basically just because it focuses on the cult of Good Hair as it relates to black people. (That is, if my interpretation of those paragraphs is correct.)

I'd like to offer that it would be valuable for all races and ethnicities to see a film like this so that we can understand the very particular effect that the "straight hair ideal" has on black women. In my humble opinion, saying that this movie is only for black people is a disservice to the message of the film. Good Hair might very well have a message of empowerment that is intended for a black audience, but I think that it is equally if not more important for other races/ethnicities - I'm going to venture that it's particularly important for whites - to see the time and effort black women spend on their hair. We need to have our eyes opened to the fact that society's projection of straight hair as more beautiful and professional is inherently discriminatory, and it forces black women to spend outrageous amounts of money at salons if they want to be taken seriously - both as professionals and as *beautiful* women.

If only blacks see this film, they may feel empowered, and they may experience some kind of epiphany about their relationships with their hair. Maybe. I can't claim to know, as I'm not black myself. But it is not up to black people to change society's perceptions about their hair - it's up to everyone else. That's why I think that the message is best received by people of all racial and ethnic groups, not just by a black audience.

And here is another comment I enjoyed, under Margaret's review:

@nyc-caribbean-ragazza: "I was talking to a friend of mine (black) who wondered if Chris Rock explained to his daughter that the reason her hair did not look like Mommy's is because Mommy wears a weave."

What. You. Said.
Times like, a kabillion.

It just staggers me the way everyone, including Mr. Documentary himself -- and I've met him, and he's cool, and can you tell, I'm really really disappointed -- is manifestly, steadfastly, resolutely ignoring this.

Considering that their two daughters were prominently featured, Malaak Compton-Rock, Chris Rock's wife, was glaringly absent from the film. I wouldn't assume she has a weave, but her hair has definitely been straightened. Chris never talks about his wife in the film, nor does he talk about his own decision to marry a black woman, not who has natural hair, but who has straightened hair. His decision comes off as hypocritical, considering the lengths he goes to in the film to show how harmful the straightening process can be, and how exploitative the weave business is. As Beet at Feministing Community puts it,

. . . it seems Chris Rock is criticizing black women who modify their hair to look straight yet he hardly even dents the larger issue of beauty standards shaped by society that constrict black women and contribute to their "need" to do this in the first place. This movie can be used as a reason to criticize black women who wear a weave but it doesn't really answer the question that if black women wore their hair more naturally, would they be accepted? . . .

I will leave you with this quote from actor Tracie Thoms, whose hair I would love to have growing out of my head:

"To keep my hair the same texture as it grows out of my head is looked at as revolutionary. Why is that?"

Why indeed. :|

Ooh, here is my favorite part of the movie:

Chris Rock: How old were you the first time you got a relaxer?

Maya Angelou: Ooh god. About 70.

Chris Rock: 70?

Maya Angelou: Mmhmm.

Chris Rock: You went your whole life?

Maya Angelou: Not my whole life. I'm still alive!


No comments: