- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2002

When 26-year-old Steve Reali Robinson watched a cantankerous old barber deride Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks in the hit comedy "Barbershop," he laughed along with other moviegoers.
But the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton weren't smiling. They demanded an apology and called on MGM to remove the scenes from future releases.
The flap over the popular movie has exposed a generational rift between civil rights activists and younger blacks who have no memory of the days of bus boycotts, freedom rides and lunch-counter sit-ins, some scholars say.
"You have some individuals from the civil rights movement, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who are utterly offended that some of their icons have been criticized," said Todd Boyd, an associate professor at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television.
"You have another generation who finds no problem whatever in criticizing anyone who they deem appropriate for criticism. They have rejected this idea of the sacred cow."
"Barbershop," which was the nation's No. 1 film for its first two weeks of release, stars rapper Ice Cube and features a predominantly black cast. It is set in a Chicago barbershop that is a platform for free-flowing debate, casual banter and sometimes off-color humor.
Cedric the Entertainer plays a blustery, opinionated barber who jokes about King's promiscuity. He dismisses Mr. Jackson with a profanity.
His character also says other blacks refused to give up their seats to whites in the segregated South, but Rosa Parks got attention because she was the secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"To take two people that are victims of the civil rights movement Dr. King was killed, Rosa Parks arrested and mock them is something that is offensive and something that is insulting," Mr. Sharpton said.
But Mr. Robinson, president of Hip Hop Congress, an activist group based in Los Angeles, said: "It just went past me. I wasn't sitting there, 'Oh my goodness.'"
He said people's reactions to the scenes are shaped by their experiences.
"That generation, they were in the thick of things with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. It's definitely a personal thing to them," he said. "We're affected by it, but we weren't really there."
Mr. Jackson has accused the filmmakers of "trying to turn tragedy into comedy," and Mr. Sharpton said he will decide whether to call for a boycott of the movie.
Despite the threat of a boycott from Mr. Sharpton, the movie's distributor said last week that it would not remove the criticized scene, and planned to release a "Barbershop" sequel.
"We have no intention of altering the film in any way," MGM said in a statement Wednesday. "The filmmakers obviously struck a winning chord with critics and audiences alike, and we are already at work on the sequel."
"Barbershop" has earned a total of $51.4 million in box-office receipts through yesterday, according to Nielsen EDI.
Mr. Sharpton said Thursday he was angry that MGM would not meet with him to hear his grievances. "It's one thing to disagree, it's another to say we won't even talk about it."
The younger generation always has been "instructed to pay appropriate homage" to the civil rights movement, said Mr. Boyd, whose book, "The New H.N.I.C.: The Death of Civil Rights and the Reign of Hip Hop," will be published next month.
But this generation has created its own icons, he said, naming two slain rap stars. "I would suggest Tupac [Shakur] and Biggie [Christopher "The Notorious B.I.G." Wallace] are maybe more important to the hip-hop generation than Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King."
Of course, people of all generations come down on both sides of the debate.
In the film itself, Cedric the Entertainer plays an older character who is scolded by younger ones for his position.
Kweisi Mfume, president of the NAACP, said the movie is a comedy and notes the comments are made by only one character. In a sampling of audience members of all ages at a San Francisco movie theater, none found the movie particularly offensive.
Walter Latham, co-producer of "The Original Kings of Comedy" film featuring Cedric the Entertainer and other black comedians, wished Mr. Jackson and Mr. Sharpton had settled their problems with the filmmakers privately.
"It's so hard for black filmmakers to get films made in Hollywood and TV shows on the air," he said. "Why is it that we are knocking our own success? They're going to impede our progress, the same progress they've been fighting for all along."


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