"Madame" Redux

Black Press Business/Economic Feature                  
Week of April 18, 2010
By William Reed

Good Hair was a 2009 American documentary comedy film by Chris Rock Productions and HBO Films.  The film focuses on African American women's hair, the styling industry surrounding it, the acceptable look of African American women's hair in society, and the effects of both upon African American culture
The film and theme created controversy on many levels.  It started disputes debates over: extent of the European ethos among Blacks; whether Rock infringed on another Black’s work; and myths about the icon of the Black Hair industry, Madame CJ Walker.  Rock says he was prompted to make the Good Hair movie after his 5-year-old daughter asked him, "Daddy, how come I don't have good hair?"  But, according to filmmaker Regina Kimbell, Good Hair was a rip-off of her documentary My Nappy Roots: A Journey Through Black Hair-itage; which she says she screened for Rock in 2007.  After a federal judge allowed its release, Good Hair opened as the fourteenth highest grossing film for the October 9-11, 2009 weekend.
Many say the movie “made Black women seem ignorant and stupid because of their hair”.  Vivian L. Randolph, President and owner of the original Madame C. J. Walker Mfg. Co. Inc., d/b/a Madame C.J. Walker Enterprises, Inc. who manufactures the original Mme. C.J. Walker hair care products took issue with the Business Exchange edition parody of the film and depiction of Madame CJ Walker.   Ms. Randolph wrote to say: “There are several historical inaccuracies that have been perpetuated and promulgated by Madame’s competitors and those who would like to inhibit the success of her company today”.  “As the owner of the original company founded by Madame as well as the historical documents of her company, I would be remiss … if I did not correct some of the misinformation and misconceptions about our Company’s founder”.  Ms. Randolph wants people to know that “Madame did not invent the pressing comb nor was she … the first to use it to style black women’s hair”.  Historically, use of the pressing comb among Black women started long before Madame began incorporating the use of the appliance into her hair growing demonstrations.  Randolph is adamant that in reality “Madame fought vehemently against the idea that she ‘straightened hair’, and that Madame Walker started the ‘Hair Growing Business’ - not the hair straightening business’” www.madamewalker.net.
Ms. Randolph’s major emphasis is that Madame was in the business of providing healthy hair car products and services.  Her point is taken, but there's no debating that today Black Hair care and products is a healthy business.  Blacks spend $3 billion a year to get the right products to ensure tamed tresses; whether braided, twisted and locked, wigs, weaves or extensions.   Their hair is a matter of priority to large numbers of Black women.   Madame CJ Walker became iconic and a millionaire catering lines of hair products to Blacks.  At its peak, the company Ms. Randolph now runs employed more than 3,000 people.
While Black-owned hair care companies flourished for decades after Ms. Walker’s successes in the early 1900s today, 90 percent of the Black hair products market is controlled by international conglomerates.  France’s L’Oreal Paris is world’s leading manufacturer of ethic products; its Soft Sheen Carson Division provides brands such as Dark & Lovely and Optimum.  L’Oreal USA and Alberto-Culver Co. account for more than a third of sales among this niche market.
Blacks need to look at the big picture and ally.  Consumers need to be mindful of how the choices we make play in Black economics.  Madame CJ Walker was a paragon of circulating dollars with and among Blacks.  To get the Black hair care industry back, Black business people need to get back the people.  To take control of the Black Hair products and beauty supply industries, hordes of Walker Agent-types need to be assessing Black hair needs and crafting and passing out such products.  Businesses in the Black Hair care market segment have to provide timely products and use mediums like Black newspapers to increase consumers’ choices toward the products.  Combined we can strengthen communities and preserve culture.
(William Reed – www.BlackPressInternational.com)


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