Chris Rock is a funny guy. We know that, even when he stars in and produces a documentary on hair and its impact on Black culture. According to those that Rock interviews in this very entertaining documentary, every black woman in America, whether it’s celebrities, or regular working class gals, will tell you they spend a fortune on their hair.
As a result a very profitable culture of hair has developed in the African-American community. In Chris Rock’s documentary, he sources out the products, personalities and politics of the American-American hair industry, including the annual Hair Styling Battle in Atlanta.
Following the film’s premiere at Sundance, the affable and always entertaining actor/comedian, sat down with Paul Fischer to talk hair, comedy, Madagascar 3 and oh yes, his thoughts about THAT inauguration.
Question: I’m just curious if you think one of the attractions of this was that you wanted to do something for your daughters, because this is a film about female self esteem and your daughters do bookend the film in a way.
Rock: I mean, yeah. I mean, part of it’s for my daughters, yeah. Totally, totally, but they’re six and four, so they’re probably not going to see this, or want to see it, for seven years, or whatever. You know, they see it around the house. I just wanted to do something good. I just wanted to do something different, that I hadn’t seen, and funny. I’ve wanted to do a movie about the Bonner Brothers Hair Show for about 15 years.
Question: So, why?
Rock: Because I just stumbled across the hair show when I was in Atlanta doing stand-up about 15 years ago and I just thought it was just – one of the most interesting, insane events I’d ever seen in my life. So, I always had that idea. But when I first got the idea – A, I wasn’t in any position to get anybody to give me money. And B – you know, they weren’t making funny documentaries 15 years ago. It was a whole ‘another world. So the idea kind of sat on the side. And then, you know, you cut to – well, 15 years later, I got daughters. And, you know, my daughters started having hair issues, my friends started to have hair issues. And – I don’t know, I had a little break, and it just seemed like, let’s – we’ll get this one shot. It was something I felt passionate about.
Question: This is more than just a film about hair. This ends up being a study in self-esteem, and about femininity, and about women in general. How did you decide to structure this? I mean, you know, you went to India. You cover a whole range of things.
Rock: I think there are two types of documentaries. I think there’s the documentary where the filmmaker knows everything that’s going to be in it before they even start shooting. And they’re just trying to get some information out there, or – you know, highlight something. A plight of some sort. And then there’s this – like what we did. It’s kind of like Hoop Dreams, or whatever, where you’re almost a cop, investigating a crime of some sort. Or you’re an investigative reporter. So when we started this, we didn’t know we were going to India. We had no idea. We were just covering the hair show. And – you know. But through covering the hair show, and talking to the vendors, India kept coming up. So – okay, let’s go to India. I met the Dudley family at an Obama fundraiser. You’re in, like, a $30,000 seat, or something. And – you know, like, if you’re around a lot of wealth, you’re usually around a lot of white people. And I see these black people here, that aren’t famous. I’m like, ” Who are they?” Cut to, they’re the Dudley people. And they’ll start telling you about their business. And we think, ” Okay, we’ve got to cover that.” And – I mean, a lot of them – it just came organically,
Question: Does that surprise you about that sort of upper class black society that you were coming into, that that existed to the extent that it does?
Rock: It really did surprise me, because it’s very Southern. They’re from the South. I grew up in New York. Yeah, it really did surprise me. Now, it’s weird, because I’ve met a lot of these people at Obama fundraisers. At all these fundraisers – you know, I’m the famous guy, so they let me go wherever, regardless if I write a check or not, but – at all these Presidential fundraisers, it was always like – these rooms for the real rich. I would always find hair people. And I was like, ” Wow. This is very” – I had no idea. Because, you know, you hear about – it’s like, any black person you’ve ever seen on television with money, you knew. They were famous, or they acted, they played a sport.
It does exist. It was like Dallas. You know, instead of oil, it was hair.
Question: How funny was it for you to spend so much time talking about hair? I mean, did you find that some of it a little surreal.
Rock: The weird thing was, I didn’t have to talk that much. I’m really laid back in this movie. I still manage to be funny.
Question: You’re the interviewer. You conducted the interviews.
Rock: Yeah, I conducted the interviews. But – people really were dying to talk. So I never was in a position where I had to pull teeth, or whatever. I was always – ” How’s your hair?” It was just like – they couldn’t wait to talk about their hair. No one had ever asked them about their hair. No one had ever taken their hair seriously. You know what I mean? So, they couldn’t wait to talk about it. You know.
Question: Did doing a movie like this want to make you to do more films like this? Did it make you change direction in some ways?
Rock: I’d love to do something like this. I think it actually works to my strengths, to tell you the truth. This is probably better than any movie I’ve starred in.
Question: Do you think that the non-black audience will get as much out of it?
Rock: You know what? Every audience we’ve shown it to has gone insane. They really have. It’s weir, especially people that see documentaries – you kind of see documentaries to learn about something you don’t really know that much about,
Question: Did you find that community, the theme of community, to be as important as simply the hair issue?
Rock: Oh, yes. It is – you know, I used to live there, before I got the big house and everything. The sense of community is as strong as ever and the barber is as strong, is as patriotic – if I said matriotic, is that the right word?
Question: Matriotic, or patriotic?
Rock: Patriotic figure in the community.
Question: Did they react to you differently because you’re Chris Rock? Or did they treat you as simply a black guy who comes in and talks to them about issues?
Rock: You know, it’s one of those things. Like – the first time I go in the barber shop, yeah, I’m a big star, but by the third time at the same barber shop, it’s – you know, it’s all broken down, and people are telling me their personal business. Barbershops are great, because they’re the last segregated place in America. It’s segregated, and I guess it’s supposed to be. Nobody’s complaining.
Question: I can’t obviously interview you without talking about the inauguration. Were you here at Sundance?
Rock: I was here.
Question: You must have been really upset about having to come here. I know you want to sell this movie.
Rock: I mean, let me put it this way. People died for me to have a chance to sell this movie, in a sense. You know what I mean? All of this – to be in this position. To sell a movie to Utah film critics, makes me the luckiest guy in the world. My Dad never got to live like this, so, yeah, I would have loved to have been there.
Question: Did you watch it?
Rock: I watched the whole thing, shut everything down, made everybody watch it.
Question: And your reaction?
Rock: I was just happy. You know, I cried Election Night. This is like picking up your diploma. Like, this was like, walking. You know when you got your diploma, in that you got the grade a month ago. Now you get to wear your cap and gown. So, I mean, yeah, I cried Election Night. America’s a great place, it’s such a great country, and even George Bush couldn’t destroy it.
Question: When Bush was leaving, was there any tinge at all of sadness, or anything that – or just relief?
Rock: You know, it’s pity; you’ve got to pity the fool, because I don’t think for one second he has any idea the harm he caused. I think he lives in a bubble. He’s one of these guys that – you know, you see them in LA. Famous people that travel in a circle that keeps them where they were at their height, so people have no idea they’re not famous any more, because they make sure they eat at this restaurant—-
Question: And they have the publicist and the agent around them all the time.
Rock: Yeah. They have them around them all the time, and they have yes men. You know, you get a sense that OJ Simpson was like that. That he still thought it was 1978, you know what I mean? Not that Bush is – well, Bush has killed more people than OJ, actually.
Question: What are you doing next?
Rock: I don’t know yet. You know, circling some things.
Question: Will you do another Madagascar?
Rock: I think Jeffrey’s about to announce it, yeah.
Question: I guess that’s probably yes, then.
Rock: It’s all up to Jeffrey.
Question: Do you hope Good Hair gets a theatrical release?
Rock: I hope so; it plays great in a theatre. I think people should see this in the theatre. I think it’s a group thing. I think in every screening an hour after the screening was over, people are still laughing, talking about it.