12A, Key Cities
Get Him to the Greek
When Chris Rock’s four-year-old daughter Lola came up to him crying and asked, ‘Daddy, why don’t I have good hair?’, he did not do what I would have done, which would have been to send her to bed without supper. Honestly, don’t today’s parents have enough to do without answering awkward questions? (For more child-neglecting tips, please see my Big Book of Child-Neglecting Tips, which is the definitive work of its kind.) Instead, Mr Rock, the American black comedian, lets us all down by thinking seriously about Lola’s question, and making this documentary as a kind of reply and, although it pains me to say it, it is a charming film: sprightly, droll, inquisitive and warmly sardonic. This may even be the best film about any type of hair I have seen in a long while and also the most informative. Did you know, for example, that having a ‘relaxer’ applied feels as if your scalp is being ‘stung by a thousand bees’? You did not, I fancy, but that is OK. I know how preoccupying and distracting neglecting your children and avoiding their awkward questions can be. Some days, I don’t do anything else.
Mr Rock is one proud, if heartbroken, daddy — ‘no matter how many times I tell my daughters how beautiful they are, it is never enough’ — and also a lovely, free-wheeling guide through African–American, Afro-hating hair culture. He travels widely in the US and beyond, visiting barbershops and beauty salons, the spectacular Bonner Bros International Hair Show in Atlanta — totally, insanely mad — while interviewing celebrities of the kind you and I have never heard of, not that it matters, and investigating braiding, relaxers and weaves. Weaves mean other hair is weaved to the scalp, and other hair means Indian hair. Rock travels to India, meeting the women whose hair is cut off, deloused, processed, and then sent to America, where it ends up on someone else’s head. A weave costs from $1,000 a pop and has to be renewed every few months. ‘Women,’ says one hairdresser, ‘will spend $1,000 on a weave even when they can’t afford to put food on the table.’ I believe these women might have read my book.
Rock does not make points as such, and keeps everything ticking over in an affectionately amused way, but points are made nonetheless. Black women have internalised white beauty ideals. Good hair means the straighter the better, at whatever the cost, politically, culturally and economically. Most black-hair product companies are now owned by white conglomerates. The business of making black people’s hair look good has made many people rich and those people are not black. There are some wondrously funny moments — particularly the men in the barbershop who say they can have sex with their wives, but only if they DO NOT TOUCH THE HAIR — but I leave you, as he leaves us, with the little six-year-old girl having her hair relaxed in a beauty salon. The main ingredient in hair-relaxer is sodium hydroxide. This will dissolve a Coca-Cola can in under four hours. Who knew?
And now, Get Him to the Greek, or don’t get him to the Greek. Who cares? I may have never cared less about anything. This is the Judd Apatow comedy starring Russell Brand as a rock star and Jonah Hill as the record-company intern who has two days to get him to his comeback concert at The Greek Theatre in LA. Oh, that it could all have gone smoothly, and we could all have gone home, but? Fat chance. There is vomit, drugs going up rectums, male rape, skanky threesomes, gags that have nothing to do with plot or character, and aren’t very good gags anyway, and all straddled by Brand, who is meant to be hedonistic rock god and little boy lost, and manages to nail neither. I like to think I have a sense of humour — don’t I always laugh when people fall over in the street?; don’t I find it hysterical when people run for the bus and then miss it? — but this is horribly tiresome and probably only fit for teenage boys, who do seem to get a buzz from this sort of thing. Talking of teenage boys, there is an excellent chapter in my book entitled: ‘Teenage Boys: How Come They Beg and Beg for a Mobile Phone and Then Never Answer It?’ This is extremely irritating; so irritating that, in my own instance, I have even forgotten to neglect my own teenage son for up to ten minutes, but rarely longer. I just can’t keep it up, I’m afraid.