Chris is doing a documentary film about hair. The low-budget documentary traces the growth of the $9 billion industry rooted in the maintenance of African-American hair and its place in ethnic community and culture. Inspired by what he calls his young daughter's "hair envy," or uneasiness with her naturally curly hair, Mr. Rock set out to investigate the nexus of power and politics related to how African-Americans style their hair. Here's an excerpt of his interview with the Wall Street Journal
The documentary includes so many different aspects of the black hair industry, from Hindu temples in India where hair is collected and exported to the U.S., to hair salons that specialize in relaxing hair, to the Bronner Bros. Hair Show. How did you decide what to include?
Mr. Rock: Doing a documentary is kind of like being a cop -- you don't know where it is going, and you just keep digging deeper. I had no idea I would be going to India for the film when we started. And Mr. Dudley -- the guy who owns one of the few African-American-owned hair-product companies -- I met him at an Obama campaign function. I was wondering who these old dudes were, and I thought they must be rich, and the next thing you know, we got the idea of going to the Dudley [headquarters] in North Carolina, where they make the hair relaxer.
The film stays relatively neutral on whether people should alter their hair, relax it, or not. But it explores the political implications of relaxing one's hair. Do you have an opinion one way or another?
When I initially got the idea about doing a hair movie, I was a younger guy and I was dating and I was a little judgmental about weaves and all that. I was more of a Public Enemy and "Fight the Power" kind of guy -- all about natural hair and all that. I'm older now, and a lot less judgmental.
Do you relax your hair?
Not at all. Women really love the film, and I can't imagine men volunteering to go see it, but maybe they will. I make art for every audience. I'm a black guy, so whatever I do is black, but I think that if what you do is good enough, it appeals to everybody. I mean, Chinese food -- it's Chinese, it doesn't include French fries -- but it appeals to everyone, it's the most popular food in America. I think art can be the same way.
You interview a lot of women for the film about their hair, mostly hairdressers, actresses or performers. Why did you decide to interview Al Sharpton?
Al Sharpton was perfect for the film because of his hair. I didn't choose him because he was Al Sharpton or an activist or anything, I chose him because he's got this hair! I mean, the guy obviously puts a relaxer in his hair, so you knew he would have a perspective on this.
Speaking of public figures and their hair, what do you think of Michelle Obama's hair? Does she relax it?
Please, I'm not playing hair police. I think it's beautiful, but I'm not going to speculate. Michelle Obama is not getting a hair critique from me. I can just see the press conference now -- it would be a disaster. There's no way I am ruining my invite to the White House.
So you won't talk about Michelle Obama's hair -- you must be very close to the Obamas. Were you involved in the campaign?
Of course. I donated a lot, a lot of money. I stumped for Obama -- I mean, my tour was pretty much a 5,000-seat Obama rally every night I did so much McCain and Hillary bashing. I like to think I did my part.