2002-09-28 / Columnists

From the G-Man

By Gary G. Toms

'Barbershop' Needs A Shape Up

Hey people! I've been waiting all week to blow off some steam over this subject, and I want to discuss the blatant disrespect shown to someone that I, and many others, consider an icon in the truest sense of the word, Miss Rosa Parks.

In the film "Barbershop", one of the central characters, played by "Cedric The Entertainer," lambasted Rodney King, O.J. Simpson, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rosa Parks. The scenes are played for laughs, but The G-man saw nothing funny about them.

Now, say what you want about Rodney King, O.J. and Jesse Jackson because they each have done things in public that warrant speculation, ridicule and scorn. However, they crossed the line with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because they desecrated the soul and memory of a dead man. In the case of Rosa Parks, she is regarded as insignificant and minuscule in the line, "Rosa Parks ain't did nothing but sit her black ass down on a bus!"

This movie had great potential, but the fact that the writers deemed it necessary to garner laughs at the expense of great black people is despicable and downright disrespectful. The lines in this movie prove that many young, black writers have a serious disconnect with African-American history and culture. Moreover, many writers simply have no regard for it.

No good writer, or actor, (black or white) in their right mind would've allowed the legacy and image of Rosa Parks to be diminished in this way. Anyone with any sense would've opted to re-write the line or remove it entirely. There is no way in hell Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, or their writing staff, would ever do what the writers of "Barbershop" did. They know that black America would come after them with a vengeance. Why are so many people, especially black people, willing to give the director and writers of "Barbershop" a free pass? What do you think would happen if a character in a movie (comedy) said, "Hitler was misunderstood. He was just doing some house cleaning in Germany?" or "AIDS, God's way of cleansing America of gays!" I'm willing to bet that Jews and gays would not be laughing.

Does obtaining box-office success have to come at the expense of civil rights icons? Are writers and directors so concerned with churning out hits, and getting paid, that culture and dignity have become the sacrificial lambs? That appears to be the case with this movie, and as a man that writes scripts depicting the greatness of black culture, I am thoroughly embarrassed! This has nothing to do with "political correctness." It's about respect!

Furthermore, heaven forbid, if Rosa Parks were to die tomorrow, you can bet that the writers, and many ignorant moviegoers, would not be laughing at the "Cedric's" character or the stupid line from the script. They'd be very upset, and they would feel real stupid. I also firmly believe that there would be a major backlash from African-Americans and others who hold Rosa Parks in the highest regard.

Instead of embracing films like "Sankofa" and "Kingdom Come", the studios would rather pump out flops like "Pootie Tang" and "Undercover Brother" because they realize a certain sector of the black community just isn't conscious. While the argument can be made that there is a market for these types of films, the writers must realize that they have a responsibility to uphold what is regarded as sacred and respected. When they fail to do this, it becomes apparent that money and career have taken precedence over culture and dignity.

In the end, we, as a race, get played for laughs, and become reduced to the "buffoons" that were prominently displayed in the early days of cinema. Back in the day, it was "Amos 'N' Andy," and the comparison between Cedric The Entertainer's character in the film, and the two characters from this television show are uncanny. Now, films like "Barbershop" are becoming number one at the box-office, and Black and white audiences are falling in the aisles laughing at these lines. I think that is extremely sad and dangerous, in terms of race relations in this country.

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