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Talking trash at the Barbershop

By Kimberley Lindsay Wilson
web posted October 7, 2002

I just came from seeing Barbershop, starring Cedric the Entertainer and rapper/actor, Ice Cube. There's something of a controversy about this movie right now because Jesse Jackson wants certain scenes cut from the film and the DVD version when it comes out. The producers have refused to do so and I hope they stick to it.

Shown in a scene are Cedric the Entertainer, Ice Cubs, Carl Wright and Sean Patrick Thomas
Shown in a scene are Cedric the Entertainer, Ice Cubs, Carl Wright and Sean Patrick Thomas

First, I have to say this was one of the funniest flicks I've been to in a very long time. I'm not saying that it's a great movie. No one is going to confuse it with The Godfather or Sophie's Choice but it is entertaining and underneath the laughs is a genuine message about what black people owe each other and what black businesses mean to the communities around them.

When I was a child my father went to our neighborhood barbershop every couple of weeks to get his moustache and afro "shaped up." I almost always went with him. The owner, Mr. Gus was a lot like the character of Eddie in the Barbershop movie. He was a funny, plainspoken man who ran a no-frills, no-nonsense place that served mostly working class guys. Men got haircuts and shaves and occasionally older customers would get their gray hair "taken care of" in the back room. If a man came in wanting a shampoo or his nails done he was told to go elsewhere.

Mr. Gus -- I never knew what his last name was -- didn't allow any alcohol in his place but cigarette smoking was almost encouraged. Newspapers, dominoes, checkers and a can of nuts were set out on a two tables for the customers and some guys stayed for hours. Cursing when there were women or children present would get a customer kicked out but Mr. Gus, the other barbers and the customers spoke freely about everything else from politics to cars, to fashion. Sitting in one of the five shiny red leather chairs I'd hear my father and his buddies solve the problems of the world while getting their hair done. I loved it and Barbershop did a pretty good job of recapturing those days for me

Yes, there is cursing in the movie and a couple of salty comments are made about two black icons, but so what? This may make you angry but as crude as the statements were they weren't bold faced lies. In my grandmother's home there were pictures of Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy, Jesse Jackson and Jesus Christ on her living room wall. Only one of these men was without sin and I don't think I have to spell out which one that was.

I was raised to revere Dr. King's memory and rightly so. When my grandmother was my age she had to step into the gutter whenever a white person passed by on the sidewalk. She had to address all white men as "sir" and like all black mothers living in the South she had to teach my uncles to keep their eyes on the ground whenever a white woman passed by, lest they end up hanging from a tree. Martin Luther King Jr. and his public life changed all that.

According to the memoirs of his friends Dr. King had relationships with women outside his marriage. His private life is discussed in books such as And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, Bearing the Cross and Pulpit Confessions. The book, I Shared the Dream by Georgia Davis Powers offered painfully frank details on her life and intense attachment to Dr. King. Barbershop can not be accused of exposing anything new.

As for Rosa Parks, it may shock you to know that she was not the first black female to refuse to give up her bus seat to a white person. On March 2, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama Claudette Colvin was ordered by the bus driver to stand up so that a white passenger could sit. She refused, a brave act for any black person but especially so for her because Claudette was only 15. She was arrested and put on probation. In October 1955, Mary Louise Smith, an 18 year old housekeeper declined to give up her bus seat and like Colvin , she was arrested. Rosa Parks wasn't arrested until December 1st of that year.

So why did the Parks case become a national story while Miss Colvin and Miss Smith were ignored? Well, the two teens came from poor backgrounds and one became pregnant out of wedlock. The local civil rights leaders didn't think Colvin and Smith were their kind of girls and simply balked at getting behind them. Rosa Parks was different. She was 42, eminently respectable and was a secretary for the NAACP. It took courage to do what Rosa Parks did but as Barbershop points out, she was not the first.

I'll leave the comment on Jesse Jackson alone but I really think he should calm down and worry about something else. He may be Black America's "president" (When was that election, anyway?) but he's not our father or our Censor General. I believe that the average black moviegoer is perfectly capable of making his or her own decision about what movies to see. Jesse may be offended by Barbershop and that is certainly his right but trying to control entertainment choices of millions of people is not.

Kimberley Lindsay Wilson is the author of Work It! The Black Woman's Guide to Success at Work (Iuniverse, ISBN 059500122X, $8.95) & Eleven Things Mama Should Have Told You About Men (African American Images, September 2000, ISBN: 0913543691, $12.95)

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