My interest in Barbershop stemmed solely from the predominately black cast and black director Malcolm Lee. The difficulty in supporting black films stems from wanting to support such projects but still remain in close proximity to black consciousness. While I am still ambivalent regarding whether its fair to require screenwriters/directors to operate with the extreme cultural consciousness, I was pleasantly surprised at the dialogue, and communal dynamics put forth at such a critical moment in contemporary black culture.
Black Father Dynamic
One of the dynamics strengthened by the time separating the last time viewers saw Calvin (Ice Cube), is the father/son dynamic. Now that Calvin is a parent to a teenaged Jaylyn—viewers are invited into the temptations that surround young black men. The movie’s setting— southside Chicago, also reels viewers into a real situation that hovers over the black community. However, none of what we see in the film is limited to Chicago. As a young black child growing up, it is much easier for you to get into a gang than into a competitive university and worlds easier for you to obtain a gun than a job. Plagued with the demand of pending masculinity, Jaylyn considers joining a gang—but eventually passes on the decision due to his strong familial ties. This revelation is powerful as it defies the stereotypes of the broken black family and the fallacious yet projected image of black male inclination to violence.
The film also dispels the silent tale of white superiority. Specifically, the film works against the belief that white presence is the resolution to black conflict. In wake of his son’s pending gang affiliation, Calvin considers uprooting his business and family to relocate to the Northside. After a lesson in community, Calvin learns that the remedy isn’t in leaving but in staying.
As an initiative to stop the violence, Calvin and his crew state a “cease fire” where they offer free services in exchange for communal tranquility. This depiction dissolves the ever-consistent white or non-black person or faction that aims to “solve” black issues during election season or so. While these acts are seemingly for black benefit, they often attempt to solve issues started by a white supremacist system. Thus, depicting black unity as a means to cure the labyrinth of cultural oppression is nothing short of powerful.
As is the case with most “all black features,” Barbershop features a non-black cast mate. Omitting, a white or latina colleague, Barbershop asserts a “brown” diversity initiative in featuring Indian barber Raja (Utkarsh Ambudkar). During a spirited discussion regarding improving the black community, Raja chimes in. Raja’s monologue professes “now is a great time to be black” referencing his own parent’s struggles and triumphs (as Indian immigrants )as a token of black possibility. His monologue is brilliantly executed down to the cliche intertwining of President Barack Obama into the discussion to prove” just how far blacks have come.”
Admittedly, this dialogue was hard to hear for two reasons. First, it mirrors countless discussions encountered with those who reflect on the black experience without having endured the black experience. Second, these sentiments typically derive from an individual who prides him or herself on their non-racist agenda yet performing in a racist agenda. Raja, much like most of the free world black and white is deeply captivated and convinced by symbolism. President Barack Obama alongside First Lady Michelle Obama— a county that once defined them both as livestock, now employs their bodies for a similar political message. Yes, they occupy arguably the highest positions in America, yet blacks continue to face disenfranchisement, and lack of economical power. Thus, while President Obama and First Lady Michelle seemingly depict a changing of the times, they demonstrate that racism isn’t consistent with the face of power but the function.
To paraphrase what Calvin states in the movie, “a black president didn’t stop Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown or Tamir Rice from being killed.” President Obama is he face of power yes. But, he too is disenfranchised by systemic racism. Furthermore, as the leader of America, he steers the same ship that enslaved his brethren years ago. Except, the same ship that once floated on the arrogance of manifest destiny is now sinking in the inevitable karma that awaited centuries of injustice.
Just as a black president failed to uplift, Black America, Barbershop, even its redeem ability fails to elevate black portrayal in media. My primary issue with this movie is a general conflict I face with most movies that attempt to showcase the perils of black culture. Presenting black people as the cause of their own conflict casually overlooks the power of systemic racism. Blacks are pawns in their own impression, as we lack the economical and political power to execute the manifestations of mental freedom. In failing to acknowledge the depth of white supremacy in destroying and employing the black mind , body and spirit in pushing their own agenda, blacks remain stagnant and complacent with fabricated “efforts” of advancement. Film like Barbershop feature black community as a weapon for white supremacy, yet subtly proves counterproductive in its failure or unwillingness to tackle racism in its entirety. Maybe this is too big of a role for a two hour movie, or maybe the “big” screen is simply too small to encompass the totality of the black experience.