Jesse Jackson is Officially a NUTBAG !
A declaration of independence, if you will.
Having solved all the problems of black America, Jesse Jackson is now turning his stern, lidless gaze to the grave matter of Barbershop, the No. 1 film in America. It is an entertaining, amusing, and morally uplifting comedy about black people. It was written, directed, and produced by black people, and stars an all-black cast, save for one character, a white guy who wants to be black. There is no gun violence, or lurid sexuality, or excessive filthy language sullying the movie. You'd think if Jesse were to protest Barbershop, it would be over the fact that there aren't more movies like it.
So why does Jesse hate Barbershop? Why is he demanding that MGM, the distributor, censor the film? Because it features black people saying things of which Jesse Jackson does not approve.
A little context: The movie centers around a working-class black barbershop on the southside of Chicago. It is a place where black men of all ages come to hang out, tell jokes, talk about women, and anything that comes to mind. As Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer), a veteran barber as hilarious as he is cantankerous, describes it, the barbershop is "a place where the black man means something. Cornerstone of the neighborhood. Our own country club."
The barbershop is also a place where black folks are free to speak their minds. Eddie takes advantage of this to trash-talk black icons. He makes a wisecrack about Martin Luther King's tomcatting ways. Later, Eddie tells the guys, "Black people need to stop lying," then outlines three "truths" he believes blacks should acknowledge: 1) "O. J. did it;" 2) "Rodney King should have got his ass beat;" and 3) "Rosa Parks ain't do nothin' but sit her black ass down."
Rosa Parks, of course, became a civil-rights hero by refusing to sit at the back of the bus. Eddie asserts that lots of black people did what Parks did, but Parks got famous because she was a secretary for the NAACP. This stirs everybody in the barbershop up, and Eddie gets chastised for disrespect. Someone says, "You better not let Jesse Jackson hear you talk like that."
To which old Eddie utters the most liberating line we are likely to hear in any movie this year: "F**k Jesse Jackson!"
As Ward Connerly and Clarence Thomas can attest, Jesse Jackson is not about to put up with uppity black people wandering off the reservation. Claiming to speak for the King and Parks families, and unnamed civil-rights leaders, Jackson wasted no time in condemning Barbershop for "the insensitivity of using Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as the butt of jokes and trying to turn tragedy into comedy. We hope the actors and producers would care enough about these grievances to apologize."
Fair enough, though it's a hoot to see Jackson pretending that he's really mad at the insults to King and Parks, and not the film's profane anti-Jackson lese majeste'. Far uglier offenses against Christianity, of which Jackson is rumored to be a clergyman, crop up in movies all the time, yet one is hard-pressed to recall the last instance in which Jesse Jackson stuck up for the good name of Jesus Christ. Still, whatever his reasons, if a man thinks a work of art is tasteless and offensive, he has every right to say so, to encourage others not to see it, and to protest the use of his tax dollars to subsidize its showing, if it comes to that.
But then Jesse goes further: "We also hope that [the filmmakers] will delete the portion of the film that is insensitive and inappropriate to both Dr. King and Rosa Parks from future DVDs, videotapes and any other future releases."
Whoa! This is censorship of a particularly outrageous and nasty kind. What Jackson is demanding is the removal of parts of a movie that are absolutely essential to its moral. He is insisting on controlling what black artists are allowed to say.
For one thing, it's absurd to claim that any human being has the right to be spared any negative commentary at all. King's infidelities are no secret, no matter how impolite it is to bring the topic up (as did Spike Lee in Malcolm X, and there was no Jackson protest over that). There's no accounting for Eddie's bizarre opinion about Rosa Parks, but its validity is not the point; the fact that Eddie is free to voice it very much is. Jesse Jackson not only doesn't want a black man to say these things in a movie, he wants any record that these things were ever said in a movie expunged from history. They understood this kind of sentiment well in Stalin's Russia.
Jackson claims that there is historical precedent for this kind of censorship. He cites World Trade Center scenes from the Arnold Schwarzenegger action thriller Collateral Damage that were removed before the post-9/11 release of the film, for reasons of sensitivity. Jackson also brings up alleged scenes from the Michael Jackson video "Dangerous" that were cut after Jewish groups complained of anti-Semitism.
There are important differences. Removing images of the Twin Towers from the Schwarzenegger film could be accomplished without affecting the artistic or moral integrity of the movie. The Michael Jackson controversy was not about the album Dangerous, but about a song from his 1996 compilation HIStory, titled "They Don't Care About Us." It contained the lyrics, "Jew me, sue me/Kick me, kike me," which brought protests from Jewish groups. It is egregiously self-serving for Jesse Jackson to compare the clear and pointless racism of those lines to Barbershop Eddie's comments about King and Parks, which are crucial to the broader message of the movie.
What is that message? That the younger generation of black Americans are throwing away the gains of their ancestors through laziness, self-centeredness, lack of discipline, greed, and a weakness for seeing themselves as eternal victims — a crippling vision encouraged by leaders like Jesse Jackson, who has for decades attempted to be both the mouthpiece and orchestrator of African-American opinion.
From Jackson's point of view, so much of Barbershop is rank heresy. During one discussion, a young ex-con barber named Ricky (Michael Ealy) calls slavery reparations "stupid," and an insult to his dignity as a black man. Eddie agrees, saying, "We got welfare and affirmative action, is that not reparations?" He adds, "What do you think [reparations] gone do? Ain't gone do nothin' but make Cadillac the No. 1 dealership in the country!"
"We don't need reparations, we need discipline," Ricky says. "Don't go out and buy a Range Rover when you livin' with your mama."
The constant theme of the film is the importance of hard work and self-reliance to black progress, and the conviction that this has been forgotten. The younger barbers complain about being haircutters, but old Eddie reminds them that back in the day, barbering was considered a noble profession. When Calvin Jr. (Ice Cube), who inherited the barbershop from his late father, tries to sell it to finance his dream of becoming a record producer and building a mansion, Eddie reminds him that Calvin Sr., simply by being an industrious businessman who cared about the community, made the barbershop an institutional mainstay of the neighborhood. There's no reason why Calvin Jr. shouldn't want the same realistic and respectable things for himself, Eddie contends.
Barbershop argues (alas, a bit too ham-fistedly) that young African Americans need to quit dreaming about the glamorous life, cease obsessing over racial consciousness, knock off the victimhood fantasies, ignore the pieties of Jesse Jackson, and get serious about building their futures. That a movie preaching such a message has been the No. 1 film at the box office for two weeks running is very good news.
Here's the best news: Before Eddie begins his iconoclastic monologue about Rosa Parks, et al., he prefaces it by admitting that he wouldn't say this in front of white people. Of course, the filmmakers knew white people would be watching this movie, which makes this line both a confession and a sly declaration of independence, an acknowledgement that the sense of racial solidarity that kept these things from being discussed openly is outdated, and no longer serves the interests of black Americans. Barbershop is an example of black self-confidence, and an affirmation of traditional values against the culture of grievance, shiftlessness, and dependency that has kept so much of inner-city black America down. And its makers defiantly say they don't need anybody's permission to say these things.
In that way, the whole movie is one big "F**k Jesse Jackson." No wonder he wants it censored. Will MGM let him get away with it? Will other black artists?
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