Hair Apparent

Hair Apparent for urban faithChris Rock’s new documentary probes the world of black hair to humorous effect, but also forces us to confront disturbing questions about our prescribed standards of beauty.

One of the big conversations in my household this year has revolved around the question of whether my 9-year-old daughter is ready to get her hair “permed.” Some girls at her school have already been initiated into the world of relaxed hair, so the peer pressure is in effect.

On the one hand my wife, who spends an inordinate amount of time combing and styling our little girl’s hair each week, would love to reduce the strain and pain (on both her and my daughter) of braiding and curling and ponytailing. On the other hand, she’s not yet ready to subject our daughter to the extreme measures involved in chemically straightening black hair. Who would’ve imagined that there’s so much drama involved in styling a little girl’s tresses?

Well, Chris Rock did.

Rock’s new documentary, Good Hair (PG-13), opens Friday in limited release and nationwide on Oct. 23, but it’s already got lots of folks buzzing about this most sacred of topics in the black community.

Critics have praised Rock’s mixture of satire, history, and social commentary. And his funny but insightful look at the $9 billion black hair industry covers a lot of territory. Indeed, there are few things more central to the daily experience of a black woman. A good-looking ‘do plays a pivotal role in both her personal and professional happiness.

Yet an ominous theme undergirds the entire enterprise. Why do so many women spend so much time and so much money trying to attain what’s essentially a “white” look? That question is at the heart of Good Hair, and with Rock as our irreverent yet sympathetic tour guide, the film sets out to get some answers.

By roaming the exhibit floor of the massive Bronner Bros. Hair Show and talking to everyone from Maya Angelou to Raven Symoné, Rock presents a subculture that is at once familiar but nonetheless foreign. How is it, again, that some women are willing to pay thousands of dollars for weaves (some actually putting their hair on layaway) to create the illusion of long tresses? Or how is it that so many are willing to apply harsh sodium hydroxide creams to their heads to straighten kinky hair? (Rock demonstrates how the chemical can literally eat through chicken flesh and disintegrate aluminum cans.)

What Rock discovers in his cinematic expedition is a gold mine of endless humor (Al Sharpton even gets some screen time — need I say more?). But it’s also a source of great poignancy. That lingering issue of who determines the standard of true beauty pervades the movie like a stubborn ghost, haunting every corner of a black woman’s existence. Even our churches — or, perhaps, especially our churches — are full of lofty hairdo expectations for black women.

Still, in Good Hair, Rock is able to take all these contradictions and discomfitting realities and allow us to laugh at them — and at ourselves. He also may have inadvertently helped settle that little dilemma in my household: If I have any say in the matter, my 9-year-old will have to wait until she’s voting age before getting that soda-can-eating paste applied to her head.

Related Article: Afro America.

Photo courtesy of Roadside Attactions

A Visual Feast

A Visual Feast for urban faith

Flint Lockwood (Bill Hader) and Sam Sparks (Anna Faris) watch in awe as a shower of cheeseburgers triggered by Flint's fantastical invention overtakes Swallow Falls.

I have to admit, I wasn’t expecting much when I first took my seat in the theater to preview Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, a 3-D animated comedy based on the popular children’s book. At the very least, I hoped it would be better than G-Force, that painful guinea pig action caper from Disney that I endured (for my kids’ sake) earlier in the summer. But as the lights went down and the screen lit up, I was almost immediately transfixed by the zesty exuberance, frantic pace, and sheer ridiculousness of this loud and colorful film. The movie swings with wackiness, wonder, and truth. And, most of all, food.


Rude Awakenings

Rude Awakenings for urban faithThe past week saw a spike in public rudeness and incivility, at least in the worlds of politics and pop culture. By now, you’ve read the tweets and watched the YouTube clips of the various offenses, right?

Most of the incidents have led to multiple apologies (both sincere and compulsory), as well as a surplus of opinion and chatter that has confirmed the central role of Twitter and Facebook in relaying real-time commentary on breaking stories. But most of all, these outbursts have demonstrated, in often shocking fashion, just how impulsive, mean, and disrespectful the human heart can be.


Beware of Presidents Promoting Education

Beware of Presidents Promoting Education for urban faithThe most controversial “stay in school” speech in the history of America came and went today, and the general consensus is that our kids were not seriously injured by President Obama’s words.

In a speech that brought criticism from conservatives who were afraid that Obama sought to deliver a political message to America’s students, the president stressed the importance of personal responsiblity and told students that “[w]e need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems.”

He added, “If you quit on school, you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.”

With all the emotion that preceded the speech, one would’ve thought that the president was planning to entice students to burn American flags or worship Darwin. And likely for many citizens, no matter how positive or inspirational Obama’s words were, they were tainted by virtue of the messenger.

Thankfully, Obama was not advocating flag burning or evolution. What he did share was a message that, at worst, could challenge students to think twice before giving up on their education; and, at best, inspire them to work their hardest to be tomorrow’s doctors, scientists, lawyers, and presidents.

[W]e can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world — and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; you pay attention to those teachers; you listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and you put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

In the lead up to the speech, I witnessed many folks, including some leaders of my own children’s school district, complain that the event would be an unnecessary disruption in the school day and distract our kids from real learning. But it could be argued that Obama’s speech was as important to “real learning” as any math or spelling test.

Obama’s not allowed to talk about the fact that he’s America’s first African American president too much, but the truth is — he’s America’s first African American president!

And not just that. He also is America’s first biracial president, who was raised in a single-parent home, whose cultural background puts him at odds with what many Americans have come to expect in terms of presidential pedigree.

Though he is the President of the United States — the president of all Americans — Obama seems intrinsically aware of the fact that just by standing up and telling people that school is important, he can speak profound encouragement into the lives of many kids who don’t have stable two-parent homes, who don’t feel as though anyone cares whether or not they perform well in school, who don’t think they have a chance at succeeding in life because of their neighborhood or the color of their skin. For many of today’s school-age children, Obama truly is the Role-Model-in-Chief.

And I, for one, am glad that he takes that role seriously.