As everyone has heard, even troglodytes like me, Harry Belafonte called Colin Powell a "house slave" (I think he intended another word to come to mind) because Mr. Powell was not able to stand against the entire lot of D.C. (deepest apologies to Columbus) Machiavellians (deepest apologies to Machiavelli) champing at the bit (deepest apologies to horses) for war.
It's quite difficult to imagine a more idiotic statement, but of course I'm sure if given the chance he'd express even greater derision for the loyal Confederate slaves whose graves I've visited, who were shot, hung, and mutilated by marauding treasure-seeking Yankees for not revealing the location of their masters' gold.
Even if White House—slave Powell was only playing good cop to the warmongers' bad cop (I'm fairly certain it's a little more complicated than that), at least he's been one of the few interesting counter-balances to the daily drip, drip of monotonous drivel from the White House and civilians at Defense.
But in the mind of Belafonte (a misnomer if there ever was one), I'm certain Secretary of State for the United States would be considered quite a lowly profession for a Jamaican-American, as would be any profession in The Evil White Man's World, except for perhaps maybe the very intellectually demanding career as member of the American entertainment industry, waiting for one's accountant to "tally me Mercedes." But maybe I shouldn't be so hard on Belafonte, he'd probably be just splendid as Zimbabwe Minister of Agriculture.
Ah, but what a wonderfully crystalline moment Mr. Belafonte has provided for us. He makes it too easy — I believe I even heard the children say, in unison: "What. An. Idiot."
So while we're talking about good news, I was delighted to see that some folks can think outside the context of slavery. I have to admit, when I heard the buzz about Barbershop, I knew it was my kind of movie — very conversational — but perhaps a bit more lively than My Dinner with Andre. It was better than I expected, and deeper and funnier to boot.
The film went far beyond the usual self-deprecating black humor (which, when not vulgar, is endearing enough). To be certain, this is not a complex film. I can hear the typical film critic, oozing pretentiousness, "It was both maudlin and jejune…" But in fact, it's more than simple, it's a fairy tale. And may God bless fairy tales, especially among tidal waves of miserable social pathologies.
Like many, I have had the opportunity to observe these pathologies first-hand. My "little brother" in Houston's Fifth Ward, through the course of one conversation, revealed to me that he did not personally know, even peripherally, one married couple.
The purpose of this film is to help invert many of these pathologies.
Barberhop tells the story of Calvin (Ice Cube), who flits from one get-rich-scheme to the next, lacking the discipline to dedicate himself to one calling. His longsuffering pregnant wife clearly sees his virtues and his shortcomings, and scolds him — but gently — no bossy stereotype here, and it is understood she will stand by him whatever he does.
What he sees as his ball-and-chain is the barbershop that he inherited from his father. He's been running it for two years, but now runs the risk of losing it. Through the very short space of time covered by the film, he realizes the shop is a community institution, and discovers its value.
It's clear from the outset that this is a film about community, about tradition, about culture, even to the extent that outsiders are not always welcome. And not just outsiders from the private little clique that runs and frequents the shop, but outsiders from their own race. What do they call that these days? Xenophobia?
This is culture beyond the sterile university constructs of "African-American Studies" — it's not indifference masquerading as tolerance.
The characters of the film are in fact strongly driven by their prejudices — sometimes wrongly, sometimes rightly, but always in the context of protecting their community.
Isaac Rosenberg (Troy Garity), the shop's lone white guy, is an ersatz black rapper, with dreams of owning his own black barbershop. My first thought when I see this pathetic character emulating an alien culture is that he has no culture of his own. The actor playing the part is the son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden. No comment.
Even though quite well played, I thought the character was a clumsy addition, too improbable and obvious, even for a fairy-tale. It's clear why the character was formed — in the end, his snobby black adversary finally takes pity on him, and accepts him on his merit. But even if the vehicle was forced, the message is: tolerance exists, but only among persons of difference and quality.
Eve (played by Terri Jones) is a bit more of the stereotypical black female (though more complicated — I worked with a young professional quite like her) — she's aggressive, irritable, loud — not exactly warm & fuzzy. She is pursued by a recent African immigrant, Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze), but she won't give him a moment's notice. But when he woos her with the poetry of Pablo Neruda, her animated character is subdued — she admits the poetry makes her "feel all squishy inside." Author's message: males are supposed to pursue with gentility, and females are supposed to be non-aggressive and feel squishy inside. Come to think of it, how about more "white" movies with this message?
But Dinka is even marginalized by the other male barbers. When he attempts to offer his opinion on bar-b-que, he's slammed: "Yeah you're new here." It's the culture, stupid.
Perhaps Ayn Rand wouldn't have found a hero in this film — it places a much higher value on culture, in of itself, than commerce. But then again she might have found heroes in the real-life filmmakers, who heroically found a market for selling traditional values to a mass-culture audience.
Surely the most "controversial" and heroic character of the film is "Eddie" (Cedric the Entertainer). Eddie is an exceedingly cantankerous older gentleman with very interesting hair (according to Gen-Xers, a bit like mine) who uses the status of his years to their maximum advantage. He was friends with Calvin's late father, rents one of the barber stalls, but never cuts hair. He just hangs around the barbershop because he feels at home there.
When Eddie's pontificating, it's often hard to determine where sincerity begins and provocativeness ends. Eddie is clearly just having fun, but is also trying to get some of the regulars to think for themselves. He offends older folks much more than younger — but what appears to be nihilism is really conservatism.
Eddie is not a big fan of idolatry.
He enrages some by telling his captive audience that "I wouldn't be saying this if there were white folks around — but there are three things blacks got to admit: Rodney King deserved to get his ass beat, O.J. did it, and Rosa Parks wasn't that special, just tired." He expounds by linking Rosa Parks to the NAACP.
When someone asks about reparations, he asks, "Isn't welfare, food stamps, reparations?" He adds that reparations would only "make Cadillac the number one dealership in the country."
Oh, but then he assails the holy of holies. He professes that Martin Luther King Jr. was a "ho." "On Martin Luther King's birthday I want everybody to take the day off and get your freak on," he shouts.
Yet he even delves deeper into the abyss of blasphemy — against living saints — he even directs an expletive at (gasp!) Jesse Jackson.
Eddie seems determined to diminish what is sacred; that is, except for that which should be.
When it is feared that Calvin might lose his shop because of bad judgment and misplaced priorities, Eddie tells him that "The barbershop is the place where a black man means something — cornerstone of the neighborhood, our country club. … Now, your father — he had integrity, he believed in somethin'."
But not to mislead, the movie revolves around Calvin; but whether about Calvin or Eddie, the movie is about freedom. It's about that which no one can take from you: heritage and soul.
This could not stand. The NAACP branch of the CP, by whom a morality play was subsequently performed (Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, the Parks and King families, et al., performing), did what commies always do: they demanded an admission of sins that had not been committed — in the form of a public apology. If they were in charge of the American State, surely the films' creators would never be heard from again.
Not content with removing that which is, it is that which was that also must be removed. The mandarins of political correctness also wanted the film to be removed of all un-PC text, all sacrilege, forever.
I'm still trying to get a handle on all this — I have to blink my eyes a few times to focus. Since when can someone be assailed for opining on a historical figure? I just read that Moslems are suing Jerry Falwell for calling Mohammed a terrorist — who says immigrants aren't assimilating?
How can someone be threatened against their livelihood for simply voicing their opinion in the name of freedom? If this doesn't scream slavery, what does?
The greatest danger to Jackson and his few partners and minions are the three pillars of freedom: thought, speech, and association.
And speaking of the Trinity of existence, the very last words of the film belong to Eve, who complains that, once again, someone has drawn from her personal stash of apple juice. She lets loose a blasphemy (the only one I remember from the film).
Well, I'm not a Minister of The Lord like the Reverends Jackson and Sharpton, but I couldn't help but notice the lack of public response to this blasphemy. It just seems that maybe, just maybe, the Reverend Jackson and all his holy men might defend the holiness of Christ as vigorously as they do the priests of race politics.
It's obvious which blasphemies are allowed and which are not. Idolatry is slavery.
From my experience, this is not lost on those Jackson purports to represent, including the "brothers and sisters" in Houston — they think he's a joke. And the joke is on white "liberals" who wallow in guilt that isn't theirs, CEOs that have to endure extortion and the penance of publicly kissing Jackson's backside, the press who propagate and relish this charade, and certainly the rest of the black illuminati that want to keep their "brethren" in slavery.
But I'll not feign shock at this particular development.
What made me truly sorrowful was the reaction of the film's creators to their persecutors. It was that sick feeling you get in your pit, when you see the underdog finally assert himself, even to a right cause, with victory in his sights, only to be smashed like a bug (kaffir) by his masters. When the mandarins screamed, the creators of the film acquiesced.
I can't blame the creators their reaction. How can I? It's hard to put myself in their position. Their ultimate goal was to do good, to elevate, to invent, to establish. Better to preserve a little now, to build on something for a greater conquest, than to lose it all forever.
But I can let my imagination run wild, can't I?
I can only imagine that producers Bob Teitel, George Tillman, and writer Don Scott sent a telegram to the Jacksons, Sharptons, Parks, and Kings: "You can sell your forty acres and a mule somewhere else — we will be slaves no more."
November 19, 2002
Brian Dunaway [send him mail] is a chemical engineer and a native Texan.
Copyright © 2002 LewRockwell.com