Whether your preference during Black History Month is for historical drama or inspired satire, there's a new DVD release Tuesday that should satisfy you.
Jeff Stilson's Good Hair (Lionsgate), narrated by comedian Chris Rock, takes both a serious and lighthearted look at the issue of black women's hairstyles while Scott Sanders' Black Dynamite (Sony) celebrates and lampoons African-American action flicks of the 1970s.
There was plenty of anticipation and even some controversy prior to the opening of Good Hair. Some observers felt Rock in pre-release interviews was demeaning or ridiculing black women with some of his comments, while others wondered if the film was going to do anything beyond give Rock a forum for his patented wisecracks and one-liners.
And though there are plenty of wisecracks in Good Hair, there's also some thoughtful examination and discussion of a key issue — primarily the role that hairstyles play in determining the self-esteem of black women.
Rock traveled to Atlanta and attended the famous Bronner Bros. hair show, where stylists from around the world compete in a combination performance and styling competition. He also went to India, the place where much of the hair used in weaves originates. He dropped in on American salons and hair care shops to ask owners about their products and prices; he also visited the headquarters of Dudley products in North Carolina, the nation's biggest black-owned hair care facility.
In Good Hair, Rock interviews both celebrities (Nia Long, Ice-T, Rev. Al Sharpton, Salt-N-Pepa) and regular customers in barber shops and beauty parlors about hair and its importance in their lives.
Overall, the film's more populist commentary than searing documentary, but Rock and Stilson covered some important territory. Good Hair shows that the black community doesn't control the market for products manufactured solely to its residents. It also reaffirms the fact no man anxious to maintain either his relationship or marriage interferes with the decisions a woman makes about the care of her hair.
In a completely different format, Scott Sanders' Black Dynamite is a clever and expertly crafted homage to '70s black cinema.
The key character Black Dynamite (Michael Jai White) is a former CIA agent who goes back into action after his brother is killed under mysterious circumstances. His investigation uncovers a pair of bizarre conspiracies that he traces all the way to the White House and his former agency. The case also brings him back in contact with a host of figures he'd once known, but hasn't associated with in many years.
The key to Black Dynamite's success came in White's dead-on portrayal of the title character. By playing him straight rather than exaggerated or comedic, it accented the madcap circumstances and kept the film from becoming strict parody, even as absurd events and ridiculous things constantly occurred.
The use of stunt casting is also brilliant, with such popular figures as Arsenio Hall and Tommy Davidson providing short but key cameos, and the use of Super 16 Kodak Reversal film giving the movie an appropriately grainy and throwback 1972 look.
The DVD includes a handful of extras, notably a featurette filmed during an appearance by White and Sanders at Comic-Con, plus cast interviews as well as alternate and deleted scenes. Black Dynamite has been a critical sensation, and did respectably on the indie circuit, but it should fare even better in the home video market.