It Takes More than a Weekend of Free Haircuts

This post is part of an ongoing series of reflections from guest writers on how faith and community is connected within Barbershop 3: The Next Cut.

By Amy L. Williams

WARNING: Spoiler Alerts

As a resident of Chicago and a gang intervention specialist, I am always anxious when a new movie comes out that is supposed to bring awareness (and “suggested” solutions) to the violence that is plaguing my city. Most of these films (ex: Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq) are done by producers, writers and directors that don’t live in or are from Chicago – and rarely even consult with those of us on the front lines. Given that Common was starring in Barbershop 3 and is very active in his hometown, I was a bit more open and relaxed in my attitude towards the film. I did go in knowing this was a “Barbershop” sequel, so I wasn’t expecting too much and didn’t want to be too critical. My expectations were low but I maintained my high expectation of how they were going to represent the city I love and have committed my life’s work. I felt like the momma bear protecting her child.

What I appreciated most about Barbershop 3 was the way it started and the way it ended: with love, respect and hope for Chicago. It opened by highlighting some of what makes Chicago a beautiful and great city. It ended with a reminiscing of why we have always loved Chicago (and still do) and that we, as a community, can change our city. Other movies have the audience leaving the theater with either a heavy heart or a bad view of Chicago. This movie has the audience clapping and cheering when the credits rolled.

What excited me the most about Barbershop was one of the main themes strongly advocated for: If you want change in your community, the community has to be the one to stand up and make that change. There was a strong emphasis on stepping up and taking responsibility for the rescuing of your own community and not depending on (or waiting for) the government or social service agencies to lead. The movie did a good job of engaging community members, accessing resources and leveraging those resources and people to work towards making a change. It used the relationships in the community, both peers and elders, to bring together gang leaders to call a truce. There was a boldness and passion that many of our communities are lacking that was modeled very well in the movie.

I was also inspired by the role Ice Cube played as an active father in the life of his son, from meeting with the school to hard conversations with his son about his friends to driving the streets looking for his son. It both modeled how important it is to be active in every area of your child’s life and that there are fathers out there fighting for their sons. Though this is not the reality for most young men in urban communities, it did give an example of what the power of an active father could look like.

Though these were strong themes in the movie, the themes were overshadowed by an excessive amount of offensive stereotypes of the black woman, black relationships, gang members and the black man (example: black boys wearing dreads associates them as gang members, though I do understand the poetic license of what cutting them off in the end represents). It was overshadowed by a distorted and fantasy view of gang life, not the reality. It was overshadowed by the constant mention of needing celebrities to save our communities. It was overshadowed with the writers attempting to tackle too many other subjects instead of just focusing on one or two issues.

As someone who works with gang members, I was disappointed in the underlying message the movie communicated about these youth. The violence was solely blamed on gang members. It did not take into consideration all the systemic issues that contribute to the increase in violence and crime. The movie only showed gang members as the problem and not as young people, if given a chance, resources and mentors, as redeemable and able to be part of the solution. The young kid that was killed in the movie was a “good” kid – college bound, worked hard, good student. When movies only show the value of losing “good kids,” it contributes to the narrative that we only suffer as a community when we lose the “good ones” and that gang members have no redemptive value. If that is the case, there are many of us doing the work that are wasting our time. The movie could have benefitted by showing how the loss of any and ALL kids hurt, grieve and impact our communities.

I was disappointed at how the movie was so focused on the violence in the street but did not address the constant violence occurring in the Barbershop itself (verbal violence, when the female barber kicked the client, the constant arguing and yelling at each other, etc.) – the irony of trying to solve a problem beyond them but overlooking the issues right in front of them.

My biggest disappointment was within the storyline of Calvin (Ice Cube) and his solution to save his son from the violence and gang life by moving from the Southside to the Northside. The elder barber, Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), has a conversation with Calvin about his decision to leave the hood and relocate his family and the barbershop. He is against Calvin leaving the hood and guilts him into staying. The strong message communicated is that if you leave the hood, even to save your family, you are turning your back on it. Though I am a strong believer of the Christian Community Development philosophy of relocation (living in the community you serve) and have, myself, intentionally chose to live in gang infested neighborhoods to deal with it head on, I do not believe it’s NOT the only solution to saving a community. If a family strongly feels that relocating their family is the best solution for them, they have the right to do so. Calvin felt his son needed to be removed from such influences but his barbershop family showed no compassion for supporting his desire to save his son in this way. Yes, we do need more strong men to stay in our communities but the self-righteous guilt tripping tactic needs more consideration and support if a man feels it’s the best option for his family.

Overall, the movie tended to be very “preachy” and only offered one solution and one view of the violence in Chicago (or any community for that matter). I do appreciate the attempt to bring to light this issue of violence in black communities and offering a narrative that communities have the power to make change within themselves. It is a movie I wouldn’t recommend if you wanted to hear the truth about Chicago’s violence but I wouldn’t deter people from seeing it either. It’s a feel good movie for the general audience, a movie of hope and perseverance. For the frontline workers, we know it takes more than a weekend of free haircuts and a two day gang truce. That is a good start. How do we keep moving forward?