On Wednesday evening, I headed to my old stomping grounds of Time Inc. in NYC for a panel discussion about the Chris Rock film, "Good Hair". The discussion was moderated by my homie, Pamela Edwards Christiani (she will host her own talk show one day; mark my words) and featured a dynamic group of four other women including culture critic Michaela Angela Davis, beauty blogger/author Tia Williams, celeb hairstylist Tippi Shorter and political journalist/author Farai Chideya.
BE@T (Black Employees at Time) organizes awesome events regularly and I'm glad I was able to enjoy many of them at some point in my career but this one seemed a extra edgy for them. I was looking forward to the conversations that would take place during and after the event. I actually interviewed Chris Rock himself along with Nia Long before "Good Hair" hit theaters and I, like so many Black women, was interested in hearing folks really talk about the historical, political and cultural catalysts for this type of film rather than simply providing more banter about surface issues the flick attempts to address.
The panel discussion began with an approximate five minute clip of the movie. Following that, all of the panelists --including Pamela-- revealed that they were pretty much disappointed by the so-called documentary. Then Michaela said something that I found so profound which was, "We wanted Chris Rock to tell our story but that was not his objective." (In hindsight, Mr. TK basically told me the same thing after hearing me vent about the movie. Sigh.) The panelists were then all asked by Pamela to share how their first relationships with their tresses started. The revelations were just as varied as Black women themselves. Tia, who currently rocks her hair relaxed and just inches above her tush explained how her southern parents placed straight, long hair on a very high pedestal in their household, while Michaela who wears a curly red fro, told a horror story of being taunted as a newcomer to D.C. in the first grade and having older girls in school threaten to cut her thick, kinky blond plaits. Tippi, who hails from southern California and wears her strands blown straight and colored, shared that she and her friends were strongly encouraged to embrace different hair lengths and textures (she dreamed of Lisa Bonet locs as a little girl) and Farai who moved from NYC to Maryland in her formative years broke down how she wasn't encouraged to appreciate her natural hair texture by her peers growing up in Baltimore unlike in the Big Apple but now sports shoulder length locs.
This discussion covered most of the predictable topics that stem from conversations about hair in the Black community: class, colorism, racism and even parenting. Michaela pointed out that a child's first association with beauty standards typically comes from their mother. The blatant sexism exposed against Indian women in the film was even addressed. (By the way, if you're into weaves, be sure to check out Tippi's Web site, getgorgeoushair.com. She and her partner ensure that no women are exploited for these extensions.) Stereotypes were laughed at: Yes, women with twists and locs can still rock 5-inch stilettos. It was a rich, lively and engaging discussion that I wish could have aired on Centric, BET or even CNN. Admittedly, I think there was a lot of preaching to the choir in the room but I guess we have to start somewhere if we ever want to begin healing. Are you thinking we don't need to heal? Humph. While I wrote and produced the Michelle Obama Daily Diary on Essence.com, I lost count of the number of times someone left an ignorant comment like "Malia needs a pressing comb to her head if she's going to be living in the White House around all those White people." See? We need healing and fast, folks.
Michaela strongly encouraged the mostly female audience to tell our own stories and to stop depending on rich men to tell them for us. This is much easier said than done, I know. But I also know many of you reading this work in media...let's take Michaela up on this challenge. I used to take my power for granted but now I get excited every time I am able to profile or interview someone who defies the odds. Even if little 'ole me is able to help break myths with this blog by proving that a dark skin woman with short hair (by choice) can genuinely be content with her life and comfortable in her skin (most of the time and the times that I'm not has nothing to do with my complexion or hair length/texture); we're getting somewhere. At least that is what I hope.
So, did you see the movie "Good Hair"? What did you think of the film and why? Leave me a comment with your thoughts.