STUDIO: First Look Pictures
MSRP: $28.98
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
• Commentary with Chris Rock and executive producer Nelson George
• Previews
• Theatrical Trailer

The Pitch

“Your Roots Are Showing: The Movie”

The Humans

Chris Rock, and hell of a lot of black people.

The Nutshell

Documentary about the strange relationship black people, women in particular, have with their natural hair, and their “normal” hair.

While many believe it was Professor Xavier’s kindness that drove little Ororo Munroe into a life of heroism, in reality, all it took was a kind stranger’s cautionary tale about a guy who tosses salads for a living.

The Lowdown

When I was growing up, my mother had half of her 70s afro cut down to size. What was once often mistaken for a moon, or a space station was now rather small, cute, and manageable. Later in the 80s, she finally broke down, and got it twisted into beautiful, flowing dreadlocks that were the absolute envy of most of her friends and co-workers. Sadly the day came when the stress of two biological kids, and the hundreds of others she played mommy to during the course of a day being a high school teacher, took its toll, and she began losing her hair. Eventually, she decided the dreads had to go, and she would get it styled somehow, for the first time in nearly thirty years. When she came back from that fateful appointment, I didn’t notice the new hairstyle (which, all things considered, was rather nicely done), but the SMELL. Thankfully, I was able to compliment said hairstyle first, but the second thing out of my mouth was “Whatever they used, it does NOT belong on a mammal’s head.”
If nothing else, I’d like to thank Chris Rock for proving me absolutely, 100% correct in that respect.

In the end, the Lamia still decided to drag all four of their souls to hell. But for the first time in millenia, he wasn’t nappy doing it.

For those just tuning in, no, black women do not come out of the womb looking like tiny fetal Beyonces. It’s a nearly lifelong commitment that turns naturally curly black hair into long, silky, luxurious LIES. Black hair is typically chemically scorched to the point where the curl basically surrenders and flattens out, where it can then by styled like “normal”. This is acccomplished through liberal application of a wonder chemical known as relaxer, which scientists will call by its Christian name, sodium hydroxide, but most of us know as lye. It’s not just for hitting bottom anymore kids. Those who’ve seen Spike Lee’s Malcolm X have seen the effects of lye in action on a person’s head, albeit in its raw, more hilariously pathetic form (and those of you that haven’t: feel free to stop reading this review and GET ON THAT RIGHT THE HELL NOW.) Nowadays, the process is damn near a requirement for black women before they enter the real world, with the unspoken fact being that a black woman’s natural hair is considered that of a woman less than fit for Western society. It’s this unspoken fact that led one of Chris Rock’s immeasurably adorable daughters to ask him one day why she doesn’t have “good hair”, which led to this documentary.
The answers Rock provides are fascinating, but never accusatory, which is commendable, actually, since the art of the unbiased documentary seems to be a lost one in a post-Bowling For Columbine world. Rock presents his facts, varied, strange, even sad by implication, and simply does not judge. It’s a tone and place he’s familiar with in his stand up, where he critiques his own, but always with love behind it. He doesn’t delve into the history nearly as much as one would hope, which is a double edged sword for the film. Black people should know, white people more than likely don’t know, and its hard for anyone to know what kind of balance should be struck between the two, so the film keeps the history at a distance. It keeps the film focused, but also keeps it from comprehensiveness.

That day, Sammy Hagar learned a valuable lesson about choosing to sleep it off in a tanning salon.

Instead, the film stays perfectly rooted in the now, and that’s the more fertile ground in terms of social politics. The film is able to spend just the right amount of time on all the major touchstones of the issue, from high class to low, from the politics behind Michelle Obama’s hairstyle, to a barbershop conversation about the disemboweling that will likely result from pulling a black woman’s hair in bed, and everything in between. We trail the journey of beautiful hair from the heads of the pious in India to the Bronner Brothers Hair Show in Atlanta, where a veritable carnival of black flamboyancy (ironically, the white guy’s the token here) competes in what can only be described as hairdressing meets Cirque du Soleil. It doesn’t really work into the central conceit of the film, but entertaining? You bet your ass.

This turns out to be the recurring flow of the film. For all the spent explaining the dangers of lye on the human scalp, or talking about the hair trade in India, or talking to celebrities about their hair experiences in the upper class(and say what you will about Al Sharpton as a religious/social figure, he’s funny, engaging, honest, and steals the film whenever he’s onscreen), or a little girl no older than 4 getting her hair relaxed and straightened, if the film senses it’s getting too close to a moment of pause or human pathos, it backs away to go straight for the funny. And while there was a conflict for a moment as to whether that’s the right way to tackle this, in the end, the answer turns out to be on the affirmative. Hair, for black people–actually, scratch that, for all people from the middle class up it a huge issue, and Rock and his co-writers end up just going with the flow of where this conversation takes them. The film winds up saying what needs to be said, satisfying the basic curiosities of its audience, and not overstaying its welcome or preaching. It lacks depth, but it succeeds as a filmed travelogue into the mind, body, and soul of a complex topic.

Savior of the upholstery cleaning industry.

It’s sad that it’s taken so long for a black man to get this particular documentary made. Rock isn’t entirely successful, or anywhere near as voracious a documentarian as I’d have hoped would tackle the subject, but for a documentary that falls more on the entertainment side of the spectrum, the film hits its mark. The advice he gives his daughters in the end is sound, and probably the one more documentaries tackling far more heady topics than this could follow: Make up your own mind.

The Bonuses

The only bonus to be had on the set is a commentary with Chris Rock and executive producer Nelson George. It’s rather laid back and dry, but informative once the two loosen up. The frustrating part is that the two of them talk repeatedly about the mountain of deleted scenes that would no doubt end up on the DVD, and NONE of it made the DVD. What a pisser.

8 out of 10