Good Hair

Good Hair Film


Released: 2009


Good Hair is directed by Jeff Stilson and presented by Chris Rock. With contributions from Maya Angelou, Al Sharpton, Nia Long and Tanya Crumel.

Afro-hair. Straight. Weaved. Curled. Blonde. Blue. Yellow. Short. Long. What defines good hair? Is hair that doesn’t meet the popular definition of being good, therefore considered bad?

In a fascinating documentary that explored the business and cultural significance of good hair, the viewer gets to see behind the scenes of the $multi-million dollar African-American hair industry. Viewers also get the word on the street, with amusing barber shop conversations and the low down from a number of celebrities such as actress Nia Long.

The documentary is well presented by Chris Rock in a serious, yet nicely understated way, as he simply poses the questions and let’s his interviewees provide the answers. It works well as he gets the best out of his subjects that way.

Chris Rock

Chris Rock

Good hair

Good hair, as far as African-American women are concerned (and this focus is all about women’s hair – sorry guys), appears to be defined as that which is straightened afro hair or weaved on hair. This is down to a combination of fairly universally agreed factors – it’s easier to prepare and get ready for work than afro hair and with more and more women now working, this seems to explain the rapid rise of straightened/weave hair over the last 30 or so years. There’s just not enough time to prepare “nappy hair” as natural afro hair is described by one contributor. Additionally and arguably of equal importance, it reflects a belief, admiration of American/European beauty, which is defined as women with naturally straightened hair. The popular belief is that to get on in society this is the hair you need to have.

Damaged hair

What the show also highlighted very graphically and worryingly was the damage women are risking to their hair and that of their children. The chemical composition of many relaxers is frightening. It’s similar to coca-cola in the damage it can do (if you know what that does to teeth you wouldn’t drink it). In a laboratory experiment a hair relaxing product was poured over a can drink and left. Within hours, 75% of the can had just dissolved. To think, women are putting this in their hair. We also saw young children having their hair relaxed and straightened. I considered it far too young to be straightening a 5 year old’s hair.  I say, let them enjoy and get used to looking after their natural afro hair.

Big Business

With straightened or weaved in hair being the dominant hair style now in America and Europe, possibly the Caribbean too(??) it is little wonder the African-American hair product market is so huge. It’s the same in England too. In fact it always has been a huge multi-million dollar industry. All that’s changed is the additional products on the markets, weaves, hair straighteners, relaxing hair products etc…

The size of the industry was most vividly and vibrantly portrayed at the enormous twice yearly Bronner Bros hair shows in Atlanta. Not only is it the world’s biggest Black hair trade fair, attracting companies, hairdressers and general public alike, it also hosts highly entertaining and competitive hairdresser competitions.

In England we host its equivalent in holding Europe’s biggest hair show every May, with the annual Afro-Hair and Beauty exhibition.

A fascinating statistic quoted was that approximately 80% of the hair product industry is white/Asian owned. I repeat. Black hair is NOT a Black owned industry. It used to be, but other, perhaps better/more financially strong businesses took over. When you consider the situation of the African-American and Black British business sector, it is a real shame and arguably a sad indictment of Black business acumen that this situation occurred in the one industry Black business people really should own.


The interviews with a group of men getting their hair cut in a barber shop was funny. They were all united in the view you just don’t touch a Black woman’s hair. One guy amusingly said he hadn’t touched a sista’s hair for around 20 years! He said it like he was genuinely frightened to, like it was a big no no! Clearly for him it was. I think that’s taking it to extremes.

Nia Long and Chris Rock

Nia Long and Chris Rock

That said, Nia Long and many other women filmed agreed with that view that men mustn’t touch “the hair”. She and other women made very good contributions to the documentary expressing what their hair meant to them and how they were perceivedWIde.

Business Lessons to be learnt

There was good food for thought about what Black women are putting in their hair, how they raise our children in terms of hair and hair care and also how Black people represent when it comes to business. It’s an industry that logically, really should be Black owned, but isn’t, aside from hairdressers and barbers which are still generally Black owned. But for how long? I think there’s something to be said for the need for salons to up their game when it comes to looking after their customers. I hear too many stories of women being kept waiting for ages to be seen, all day trips to the hairdressers, regardless of whether or not they have an appointment.

Barbershops – are often not well maintained when it comes to decor. Service levels and decor I would say are the two big areas to be monitored. Higher levels of service should be demanded and provided.

The same applies to African-Caribbean restaurants and take-aways. A whole different topic, but there are clear similarities.

This was a highly entertaining and interesting insight into a hugely popular and important area of culture and business. The arguments and views put forward, though American, were those Black British women and men can readily identify with. If you have an interest in Black hair and Black business then this is a very good DVD to watch.

© Tiemo Talk of the Town


Bronner Bros Hair Show. Industry only. Atlanta, Georgia, America – February 22nd – 24th 2014

Afro Hair and Beauty Exhibition, London, England. 25 & 26th May 2014

Good Hair trailer

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2 Responses to Good Hair

  1. Claire says:

    I really enjoyed reading this review. I believe from a business aspect us black people are missing a trick and totally agree we need to think in a more cooperative business like concept to aid each other in business. It is not logical to lose the original base, products made for black people and let others with less experience than us to sell back to us.

    I went into a shop to buy products and there was not one women in the shop who could advise me, so the points made in this article need to be directed to the organisations who at an early stage can encourage new businesses to keep their original base and find ways to continue their business by innovation, creativity and using old wise heads to help them stay on track.

    On a personal level, a lot of women wear weaves as oppose to relaxing their hair. There are issues with the relaxing chemicals, they are too strong and as my hair is mixed, afro, indian and white hair from my granddad I can’t wear relaxers and now don’t wish to. Especially after reading this article.

  2. Tiemo Talk says:

    Claire – Thanks for your comments. I couldn’t agree more with your business orientated points.

    It’s humbling to know the review of the film has caused you to not even consider relaxers from now on.

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