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“Good Hair” and “Americas: Mirrors of the Heart”: Documentaries Comparison


Racial identity may be defined as a specific sense of belonging to a particular racial group. It is based on the person’s perception that he or she shares the same heritage with this group. The examination of racial identity is highly essential for the evaluation of historical and social changes in the context of race and ethnicity. This paper represents the summary and a critical analysis of two films related to the issue of racial self-identification – Good Hair and Americas: Mirrors of the Heart.

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Good Hair

Good Hair is an American documentary film produced and narrated by Chris Rock in 2009. It addresses the African American women’s perception of their natural hair and the measures offered by the black hair industry to manage it. In general, the main disturbing idea addressed by the author of this film is the fact that black people are influenced by the idea that their hair is not good (Good Hair). According to Dr. Maya Angelou, hair may be considered as a woman’s glory shared with her family, and all types of hair are acceptable (Good Hair 00:02:59-00:03:20). However, modern culture has an immeasurably powerful influence on the black community of the United States, and the majority of African American females define good hair as smooth, straight, and light (Good Hair). In fact, the attempts of women to have hair that looks like European are considerable challenges that substantively influence their lives.

The black hair industry supports the desire of African Americans to change their hair as “good hair is a good business” (Good Hair 00:03:50-00:03:52). Such companies, as Bronner Bros. and Dudley’s, have highly substantial profits from the selling of hair products and the organizing of shows and training for hairstylists (Good Hair). The basic thing that African American adult women and even children use for their hair is a cream relaxer – an aggressive chemical substance that makes hair smooth and relaxed, without natural curls. However, the application of a relaxer frequently results in strong pain, hair addiction, serious chemical burns, and damage of hair follicles (Good Hair). That is why another trend in the black hair industry that currently gains popularity is weaves.

Regardless of their types, weaves or hair extension gives African American women an opportunity to have long hair with European texture. However, weaves have several considerable disadvantages as well – it takes up to eight hours in a hair salon to apply them, and weaves are extremely expensive. An average price for a wig may reach one thousand dollars, however, black women prefer to spend money on weaves at the expense of personal or family welfare (Good Hair). Traditionally, hair for weaves arrives from India, where women sacrifice it during a specific religious ceremony (Good Hair). However, in India, hair is still regarded there as more valuable than jewelry or gold, as it is extremely challenging to get several kilograms of it (Good Hair). At the same time, African hair has no value, and it is not purchased for the production of wigs.

According to African American females, good hair is extremely significant for them as their self-esteem is wrapped up in it. At the same time, some women are currently starting to realize that the black hair industry may be regarded as a trap that promotes negative images of good hair and has a highly negative influence on women’s perception of their racial identity. Although their decision to keep their hair the same texture as it grows out of their heads is still regarded as revolutionary, African American women admit that natural hair is freedom.

Americas: Mirrors of the Heart

Americas: Mirrors of the Heart is a series that examines the issues of identity and racial self-definition of the people from the island of Hispaniola – the Dominicans and Haitians. Dominicans are mulattos and the descendants of black slaves and white masters, however, they identify themselves as white people (Americas: Mirrors of the Heart). At the same time, men traditionally make attempts to “improve their race” through marriage with white women as they want their children to be more light and more Spanish (Americas: Mirrors of the Heart). In turn, white Dominicans even marry within their families to save racial purity.

In turn, the Haitians, being the descendant of black slaves who won independence from France in 1791, are very proud to be the grandchildren of African people (Americas: Mirrors of the Heart). In 1822, they invaded the Dominican Republic with an intention to take this country that resulting in enmity with the Dominicans (Americas: Mirrors of the Heart). In the present day, around one million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic (Americas: Mirrors of the Heart). It goes without saying that Haitian culture substantially affected the Dominican community.

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Films’ Analysis

Both films address the highly disturbing issue of people’s denial of their racial identity. African American women from the United States define their natural hair as bad and agree to withstand pain and spend substantial amounts of money for weaves during almost all their lives. Dominican women, being mulattas, frequently have the same hair as the Africans and use the same ways to change their structure. At the same time, the hope of racial identity acceptance in the future is reflected in both films as well. African American females gradually understand that their hair is good, and it defines them and their culture. The Dominicans understand as well that the world is changing, and the number of interracial marriages is constantly growing. They have to admit that their children should accept themselves and their ethnicity.

There are several differences between the two films, however, in comparison with the main idea, they may be regarded as insignificant. First of all, the issue of discrimination is not reflected in the first film. There is no evidence that the white community force black people to deny their identity or promote their standards of hair’s beauty to African Americans. At the same time, the negative attitude to mulattos as to black people in the United States is mentioned in the second film. The Dominicans admit that the Americans may refuse to help them or pretend that they do not hear or understand questions. However, in the second film, the denial of racial identity by the Dominicans is demonstrated as natural and commonly-accepted in their society. This tendency does not have any negative effect on their lives. In turn, the denial of hair’s natural structure by African American females leads to inner discomfort and misunderstanding with men within their community. Women do not let other people touch their weaves, and a substantial number of African American men confess that they prefer white women as they feel more comfortable when they are not afraid to touch women’s hair.

Works Cited

Americas: Mirrors of the Heart. Narrated by Raúl Julia, WGBH Educational Foundation, 1992.

Good Hair. Directed by Jeff Stilson, performance by Chris Rock, HBO Films, 2009.

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