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Rock & Long, Getting a Few Things Straight

Friday, October 9, 2009

Staff writer DeNeen Brown sat down recently in the Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown with actress Nia Long and comedian Chris Rock for a conversation about Rock's documentary, "Good Hair."

Why did you decide to take on this subject and make a film about black women and hair?

Rock: It's a big answer. I was exposed to the Bronner Brothers' hair show [a black hair-care industry trade show] probably 20 years ago when I was in Atlanta doing stand-up and some girl I met was modeling in the show. I saw the show. I was like, "This is a movie!" At the time, I was not famous enough to get a movie made. They weren't really making movies like that. There was no reality TV. Michael Moore wasn't even big. It was one of those ideas I put to the side. Cut to 20 years later. My daughter starts talking about [how] her friend has "good hair." And it just jarred me. Hey, I think it's time to make that hair movie.

What was your reaction at the time? She said, "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?"

Rock: The reaction? Have you ever had a kid fall down and you overreact and the kid wasn't thinking about crying, but they start to cry because you were so startled? Well, that applies in other things, too. . . . Even though my daughter said these words, "good hair," I had to suppress whatever I was feeling back then. Because if I had reacted to it she would have a complex about her hair.

Talk about the issues [black] women have with hair.

Rock: Right now to me, hair is more or less a style issue. No different than deciding to wear a hat or not. It definitely started in a bad place.

Long: I think we also have a lack of presence in terms of celebrating our beauty that looks more Afrocentric. So what happens over time, you start slowly to believe that the less Afrocentric you are, the more beautiful you are. So it's fine for a woman to make a choice about her hair, her makeup, whatever she chooses. But are you right on the inside? . . . The images we celebrate are so extreme. You are either blond, blue-eyed . . . or you are Whoopi Goldberg. . . . Thank God for Michelle Obama because her presence will actually give younger black girls something to see, and they can go like, "Oh! Wow! She looks like me."

Can you talk about the role Hollywood plays in the so-called definition of beauty. Someone in the movie talked about actresses who don't get roles because they refuse to straighten their hair.

Long: They don't go, "Oh, you have dreads or an Afro. We are not hiring you." But you know better.

Rock: They barely want to hire a black person anyway. A meeting went on for them to even write the word "black" on the script. . . . If you want the part, you should probably come in as not black as possible.

Really? Not black as possible? Does President Obama being in the White House have an effect? Do you see that changing Hollywood?

Rock: Put it this way, they are probably going to start casting white guys to play the president. They have been casting black guys for so long. I think a bunch of black actors just lost their jobs. It's like, "Obama, damn you." It was a cool thing to have a black guy playing president. Now the president is black all those jobs are gone.

There is a scene in the movie when you [Chris Rock] are in L.A. trying to sell black hair, but no one would buy it. How do you wrap your head around something like that? This was after your trip to India, where hair is gold.

Long answers: There is that stigma if you have nappy hair, that means you have bad hair. If you have straight hair, that means you have good hair. So it's interesting this is called "Good Hair" because truthfully, it celebrates all hair. It takes you on a contemporary journey. Ultimately, I believe all hair is good hair.

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