*A barbershop is many things to many people. A place to get a haircut. A place to watch sports. A place to talk unedited about anything, from the big game and the players to politics and women.
Whether you’re a first timer helped into the barber’s chair by a mom or dad overseeing the clipmaster’s artistry on your head or a mainstay hanging out with the fellas in the public man cave, barbershops hold a special place in the heart of the community and the guys who enjoy being where it’s no crime to just be you.
That spirit was front and center with the aptly-titled film “Barbershop.” This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Tim Story-directed MGM Studios comedy, which arrived in theaters on September 13, 2002. At the center of “Barbershop” is a struggling Chicago-based tonsorium owned by Calvin Palmer, Jr. (Ice Cube). Much to his dismay, Calvin inherits the shop after the death of his father.
Seeing the barbershop as anything but a benefit, Calvin harbors thoughts of selling the longstanding fixture to the local loan shark Lester Wallace (Keith David). Lester’s plan for the barbershop? Turn it into a gentlemen’s club, where the girls are dressed up as barbers and “they’ll give you a trim and you can get some trim.”
For David, real-life barber and beauty shops play an important role in the communities they populate, serving an eclectic mix of customers with unique views on issues that affect them and the lives they lead.
“In the black neighborhood, barbershops and beauty shops [are] those places where we get to have intellectual exchanges, political and otherwise. In our barber shop, its always the same [people] saying things that will antagonize certain people who think certain ways, certain political views” the “Nope” entertainer told EURweb, while highlighting patrons with a way to get a reaction while discussing certain topics. “And there’ll be somebody who’s going to stir that pot just to be stirring it. Not necessarily because he believes anything he’s saying. But he wants to shake it up and actually wants to make sure that you believe what you’re saying. So, that’s what you get, because he’s always saying things that is going to upset somebody.”
Along with Calvin and his wife Jennifer (Jazsmin Lewis), “Barbershop” introduced moviegoers to the unapologetically old-school Eddie Walker (Cedric the Entertainer), the take-no-crap, apple juice protector Terri Jones (Eve), the formerly incarcerated tough guy with a heart Ricky Nash (Michael Ealy), the educated and arrogant activist Jimmy James (Sean Patrick Thomas), the naïve Nigerian romantic Dinka (Leonard Earl Howze) and Isaac Rosenberg (Troy Garity), the barbershop’s only white barber who is hungry to showcase his barbering skills on a willing customer. Completing the film’s all-star roster are Anthony Anderson, Deon Cole, DeRay Davis, Lahmard Tate and Tom Wright.
Garity was the only “Barbershop” star to have actual hair-cutting experience, unlike his rookie hair-styling co-stars. With a film called “Barbershop,” it’s only fitting that anyone cutting hair onscreen be able to actually do the job.
“What was genius about Tim was before we shot the movie, we all went to barber school. All of us, the whole cast,” Thomas shared with EURweb about Story’s intent for the ensemble to learn the art of the cut at a barber school. “We all took barbering classes together from real barbers. And so it served two purposes. It got us more accustomed to just the basics of how to hold the clippers and how to cut hair. And also, we got used to being around each other while we were doing it.”
“And then, once we got on set, there were barber consultants there,” continued the “Save the Last Dance” actor. “We just kind of had faith in God that we didn’t really shave people’s hair off and stuff like that. But we were all very comfortable with the equipment by the time we got on set.”
Equipped with positive reviews and memorable performances, “Barbershop” exceeded its $12 million production cost to become a certified success with a worldwide box office haul of $77 million. The MGM vehicle’s triumph ultimately spawned a successful franchise with 2004’s “Barbershop: Back in Business” ($66 million worldwide box office total) and “Barbershop: The Next Cut” arriving in theaters more than 10 years later on April 15, 2016.
Between the second and third “Barbershop” films came a small-screen expansion of the franchise with “Barbershop: The Series.” The 10-episode 2005 Showtime offering, which starred Omar Gooding as Calvin Palmer, Jr., aired for one season before its cancellation.
That same year, the “Barbershop” universe took a different big-screen turn with “Beauty Shop.” Boasting a cast made of Queen Latifah, Alicia Silverstone, Kevin Bacon, Djimon Honsou, Mena Suvari and Alfre Woodard, the spin-off put the spotlight on Latifah’s character, Gina Norris, a hairstylist and Calvin’s ex-lover who appeared in a memorable face-off with Cedric’s character Eddie in “Barbershop 2.” Despite its “Barbershop” connection, “Beauty Shop” did not fare as well, making only $37.2 million worldwide at the box office.
Nevertheless, Keith David’s love of barbershops naturally carries over to beauty shops, complete with memories of weekends hanging out in his grandmother’s beauty shop, with the smell of homemade meals sold by a local church filling the air.
“My grandmother had a beauty shop and on Saturday afternoons, it was always almost every weekend, one of the local churches would be selling dinners as a way to raise money. And if you happen to be in the shop at that time and you had $1.50, you got yourself a good meal, the acting veteran remembered. “I remember for like $1.75 or $1.50 you [could] get yourself a chicken and string beans and macaroni and cheese. It was a meal and It was fabulous. It was just fabulous.”
Despite the cancellation of “Barbershop: The Series” and a lengthy hiatus, fllm watchers still craved another trip to Calvin’s barbershop with “The Next Cut.” The third “Barbershop” film, which added new characters played by Common, Regina Hall, J.B. Smoove, Lamorne Morris, Tyga and Nicki Minaj, respectively, brought in a worldwide total of $55 million. Add in repeated TV showings on various channels and it’s a safe bet that the “Barbershop” films were entrenched in the culture, where they continue to be to this day.
So what’s the secret to “Barbershop” and its enduring legacy?
“I think honestly, it was very basic and very well-written,” Lewis stated to EURweb. “And I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean it was connected to people’s emotions, the loss of something important to a person and his family. We’ve all experienced loss. We’ve all experienced parents passing and all of those things.
“And I think it just resonated with the family element of it to a lot of people and most importantly, neighborhoods,” Lewis added. “This is about a neighborhood. It happened to be in Chicago, but it could be any neighborhood in America. I think it just was heartfelt to people. It hit them in a place where a lot of superficial movies that just look really glossy and look really pretty don’t. We kind of hit them in the heart and I think that’s why it resonated with so many people and still does.”
Barbershops: The New Bar
There’s no question that “Barbershop” offered a slice of black life. The kicker was how universal that slice was. No matter the location, there is bound to be a barbershop in your area, if you’re looking for somewhere to put your situation on blast without the backlash.
“Everyone could go into the barbershop. This was a totally different deal because that’s what we did,” David noted. “It was a gathering place where I went to talk, and socialize. Sometimes you didn’t go to the bar. You went to a barbershop and sometimes, even at a barbershop, you can have a drink or two. I was saying sometimes, instead of going to the bar, you go to the barber shop maybe have yourself a little taste, you know.”
Like David, the bar reference connects with Lewis, who grew up in a community that didn’t have “a lot of barbershops, or beauty shops.” It was later in life, when the “Traci Townsend” actor relocated to California, that the value of those fixtures on customers truly came through.
“I didn’t grow up that way,” the former Lorain, Ohio resident said. “I wish I had now, learning what it means. You know, getting older, coming to California and seeing what a staple these places are. They’re like the therapy offices, you know what I mean?
“… I have come to know how important an outlet like that is. it’s a gathering place for people to congregate. And I’ve seen it now. They come in a beauty shop or barber shop, get their haircut, sit down and talk. And that’s really important,” continued Lewis. “It’s like the new bar. You don’t need to get drunk. You just need to vent or hear some words of wisdom from somebody that might be older than you or might know something more than you.”
‘It’s a Crossover Movie’
Diving deeper, Jazsmin Lewis brought in three descriptors that sum up why “Barbershop” continues to strike a nerve with the movie’s fans.
“We took a theme that resonated with a lot of people. It’s a crossover movie,” she declared, “because it’s still about heart and it’s about family and it’s about legacy. That’s the truth. It happened to be a black barber shop in a neighborhood in Chicago, but it could be anything in anywhere. So I really think that’s what gave us appeal that we didn’t really expect.
“Barbershop”’s universal appeal goes beyond folks who have seen the movie multiple times. Although a good laugh is guaranteed, themes of family and community are also present within the feature’s 102 minutes. So much so that Lewis confirmed the creation of “a little family” by the cast, in front of and beyond the camera.
“The film deals with so much. There’s so many different layers of it,” the actor stated. “You could peel off our stuff as far as the areas of the issues that it does touch on and everything. It’s so many different things. We created a little family doing ‘Barbershop 1.’ And we kept that all the way through.”
“We’re still all quite close,” Lewis added. “That’s just kind of unheard of in this business. You do a movie and you go your own way…We all kind of got into this thing together and we just sort of stayed that way and that makes me happy and proud that everyone sort of came together like that and everything.”
Reflecting on “Barbershop’s” 20th anniversary, Thomas gushed on how he’s “still proud of that movie,” noting the production’s heart and real connection between the characters. Love comes to mind for the entertainer as well as “lots of different kinds of black people” showcased in a film so revered by so many people for so many years.
“Honestly, it’s the love that these people have for each other and in that barbershop. I think that there are lots of different kinds of black people and in that barber shop, we see a lot of different kinds of black people and they all have love for each other in different ways,” the actor stated. “We see the immigrant Leonard [Dinka], how brilliantly played by Leonard…You see Eve’s Terri and Cedric [Eddie]. These are all very different types of black people. But they’re family at the end of the day. And I think that that’s what sticks with people…I feel that people can take a look at the film and see elements of themselves as well as the people that they know. Or at least somebody that you met in a certain period of time. They’re reflected in this movie.”
Scroll below to see the trailer for “Barbershop”: