What Happens in the Barbershop, stays in the …

barbershop1In continuing with my love of films that take place in one day, what better time to talk about all that goes down in the Barbershop. Barbershop opened in theaters on September 13, 2002 and for a production budget of 12 million dollars, it went on to gross $77,063,924 worldwide.  If you wanted to describe what this film was in one sentence, simply states: A day in the life of a South-side Chicago barbershop. In Barbershop (2002), written by Mark Brown and directed by Tim Story (both of whom are black men), the barbershop itself, owned by Calvin Jr. (played by Ice Cube), who inherited the business from his deceased father, is not just the setting, but the main character. Poor Barbershop! How can we not sympathize without it? From the very beginning of the film, it is established as financially unstable, underestimated, and taken for granted by Calvin who sees the barbershop as a roadblock to his get-rich-quick hustles and dreams of Oprah’s guesthouse. Dear barbershop, how misunderstood you are! While the barbershop is filled with characters such as Terri (played by Eve) who is fighting with her ex-boyfriend, Ricky (played by Michael Ealy) as the ex-con, Jimmy (play by Sean Patrick Thomas) who is just plain bougie, J.D. (played by Anthony Anderson) who steals a cash register, and Eddie (played by Cedric The Entertainer), the old guy, they all have their own conflicts and big personalities which all serve to fill the barbershop with its stories, jokes, music, politics, and haircuts. All of which tell a different black experience. While at times it seems that there is too much going on with every buzz of the razor, it is all just ONE day in the life of a black barbershop in the south side of Chicago.


Barbershop (2002)

Although some have just viewed the barbershop as a public space where all walks of life come to gather, in the black community, maybe the barbershop is a social institution. A barbershop as a social institution? Yes, a social institution. A social institution may be defined as an organizational system which functions to satisfy basic social needs by providing an ordered framework linking the individual to the larger culture. There are five basic social institutions: (1) family, (2), government, (3) economy, (4) education, (5) religion. Now imagine if a black person was in charge of those social institutions. Now imagine a black barbershop where: (1) relationships are formed between men= family; (2) the barbershop in the 1950s were spaces used by black activists, council members, voting registration, etc. = government; (3) services in the form of haircuts are sold = economy; (4 & 5) people are free to voice their opinions and share information in community with one another from anything to politics to religion = education & religion. All these things can be seen in Barbershop (2002). Therefore, the barbershop of the black community not only features black men as business owners but also as active agents satisfying the basic social needs in something as simple as a haircut that also links them to the black community and offers stable patterns of living in that community. Also, Cubie A. Bragg writes that as a social institution the black barbershop is  a place where African American men could communicate without concern of judgment.

Coming to America

Coming to America (1988)

That freedom is not so readily accessible to or owned by black people in other social institutions or even public spaces. What we see in Barbershop (2002) is a constant reaffirmation that these four walls provide more than just a haircut, but it provides a way for you to connect with one another, your community, your basic social needs, and your freedom. I say that to acknowledge the setting of the barbershop in many black films and sitcoms such as: Coming to America, Undercover Brother (here the barbershop was a cover-up for a black political organization), MTV’s The Shop, Good Hair, and Martin (TV Series) just to name a few places (& do not even get me started on appearance of beauty shops in black films). It is a popular setting in black film because it offers a space for black characters to speak freely and express patterns and relationships to others and in black communities.

In the film, Eddie, the most opinionated of the bunch fully exercises all the freedom that he has within the barbershop, no matter how “controversial” it might be. In a two minute scene, when the characters are talking about civil rights activists and Rosa Parks is mentioned, Eddie criticizes Rosa Parks stating: “Rosa Parks ain’t do nothin’ but sit her black *** down.” In the film, he also criticizes Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesse Jackson. Reverend Al Sharpton was less than pleased with the performance and called for the scene to be taken out of the film. Although the film’s producers did apologize, they refused to edit the film. In an interview with Crossfire hosts Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson on CNN, Sharpton states:

“I think that there are some things [that] go beyond humor. Martin Luther King died fighting for the freedom of all Americans. I don’t think to disparage him, as a line in this movie does, is something that’s funny. I don’t think to say that Rosa Parks, who was arrested for sitting down in the front of the bus at that time causing a social revolution that led to desegregation, is something that is funny to me.”

175453__barberbo_lI should say that when I first saw the film I did not like the comments made about Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King either and I would never talk about these black leaders and figures like that. However, then Eddie went on to state: “There are three things that Black people need to tell the truth about. Number one: Rodney King should’ve gotten his ass beat for being drunk in a Honda in a white part of Los Angeles. Number two: O.J. did it! And number three: Rosa Parks didn’t do nuthin’ but sit her Black *** down!” That is when I realized that although I have never talked about Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King Jr. in such a manner, I noticed how as black individuals, we filter and sensor ourselves. Certain people and certain topics are automatically off limits. Why? Because we often do not see ourselves as individuals but as part of a collective where we get scared to freely speak our minds because we do not want to reflect badly on our “race.” Thus all of our thoughts, all of our opinions, go through filters and become representatives of the entire black community or sectors of the black community (such as Rev Al Sharpton deems the scene inappropriate for other black people). What Eddie is commenting about is how black individuals just taking certain things for how we are supposed to take them because other black people do or have told us that we should. If we don’t take this from other races, why should we take this from ourselves.

However, it still raised a dilemma for me in that in many other ways other black people are degraded through stereotypes and negative imaging in other facets, so in a film directed and written by blacks, should we be relaying any message that some might fine degrading towards blacks? Or should we just stop taking one person’s opinion as representative of the masses? Why is it that in order to have conversations like these, black people must take it to the outer spaces and behind closed doors such as in black barbershops? Why can we not have conversations, no matter how radical or borderline offensive out in the open?

Later in the interview Begala asks Sharpton that by stating that it is off limits to discuss certain people that he might be memorializing them. After all, they are not gods but human beings. Sharpton responded:

 “And I think that they are human beings. But we’re not talking about them being referred to in human terms. We’re talking about they called Dr. King a whore. That’s like calling a woman out of a — that’s like someone saying that a woman is a “B,” and you’re just humanizing her. That’s insulting. That’s offensive… You never heard me complain about a movie before, whether they lampoon me or someone else. There’s a difference in degrading and denigrating someone’s legacy and in telling a joke about that.”

However, later Sharpton seems to have a different opinion. He recently criticized and called for a boycott of dolls replicating the enslaved characters of Django Unchained (2013) calling them offensive although he did not have any thoughts on Quentin Tarinton’s use of the n-word in the film. He has appeared on the tv show Girlfriends where the b-word is thrown around causally, although he stated that it is degrading. Then, in 2011, Sharpton‘s National Action Network honored actor, producer and director, Tyler Perry at their Triumph Awards. As stated in previous blogs, many feel that Tyler Perry’s films take his Madea character too far and are reminiscent of buffoonery in early filmmaking and stereotypes. Sharpton referred to those who question the stereotypes of Tyler Perry’s characters as “proper Negroes” who do not understand everyday black people (as if all everyday black people act just like the characters in Tyler Perry’s films). According to USA Today, Sharpton goes on to talk about Tyler Perry stating: “This man never apologized for who we were.” He applauded Tyler Perry’s efforts to employ black actors stating: “The ultimate pride is where you don’t have to bend and adjust for others to accept you. … He didn’t go mainstream, he brought mainstream to us.” I found it ironic that Al Sharpton would make these comments about Tyler Perry when in 2002, he called for the filmmakers of Barbershop, although the film employs a black director, writer, and predominately black cast, to then apologize for their thoughts. When Sharpton demanded that scenes of Barbershop (2002) be taken out, would that not be “bending” just for the acceptance of others like himself. Isn’t that what Eddie’s scene in Barbershop (2002) is arguing for black people to do… not apologize for your thoughts or bend and adjust for others to accept you. Say what you want to say. Why is that those who criticize him are called “proper negroes”? Why is it okay for Tyler Perry to make comments about black people more specifically black women, skin color (such as in his play “I Can Do Bad All by Myself” he states: “[Brown] you so black the oil light goes on every time you get out of the car”), etc?  Is it that Tyler Perry donated to the National Action Network a $200,000 donation, to which Sharpton exclaimed Madea’s familiar phrase: “Hallelujer!”

In Tyler Perry’s acceptance speech he stated that black people need to go back to their “roots”:

“I stayed with who we are, and what I wish I could get us to understand as a people is that instead of getting your education and running from us, you need to ground and root yourself in who we are. Every other culture in this country knows the value of us as black people but we don’t know it ourselves.”

I think that everyone should express their thoughts and who they are, but I think where the problem arises is that no one knows who “you” are but yourself but there are messages and media images claiming your identity and grounding and rooting you in the collective of, as Perry states, “who WE are.” But what if that WE is not how I see myself. Maybe that is where all the criticism towards Perry arises and the Barbershop scene arises. It’s seeing those opinions as your own even though they are the opinions of just that individual. Or maybe this is a conversation for the barbershop because after all  “If we can’t talk straight in a barbershop, then where can we talk straight? We can’t talk straight nowhere else. You know, this ain’t nothin’ but healthy conversation, that’s all.”


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