`Barbershop' dispute cuts into a bigger boycotting issue

September 28, 2002|By GREGORY KANE

THINK OF the potential headline: "Radical Black Activist Al Sharpton Joins Black Conservative's Boycott of `Funny Negroes.'"

The black conservative in question would be me. My boycott of so-called "funny Negroes" started in 1999, after Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence tried to pass off a film about the Southern prison farm system as a comedy.

In Life, Murphy and Lawrence played two black men framed for murder. They end up at a place much like Mississippi's Parchman Prison Farm, so notorious for brutality, racism, murder and oppression that one historian described the experience in it and similar hellholes as being worse than slavery.

Of course, since we all know how thin-skinned liberal and leftist African-American leadership is on the issue of slavery -- not to mention a situation worse than slavery -- there was widespread outcry about Life, right?

Wrong. We didn't hear from Sharpton on that one. We didn't hear from the Rev. Jesse Jackson either. Jackson is Sharpton's partner in criticizing the movie Barbershop.

It seems Sharpton's and Jackson's mouths were shut down when it came to Life. But in the matter of Barbershop, we can't get these two to shut up.

Jackson railed against 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."

Sharpton added that he was "outraged and offended. I think it's objectionable to cast Martin Luther King, who gave his life for American freedom and liberty, as an immoral figure."

I know what you're thinking. How can any guy who wears a hair-do like that get offended by anything? You're also wondering about the insensitivity of the jokes, so here they are.

A character played by a comedian named Cedric the Entertainer says that the only contribution Rosa Parks made to civil rights was to "sit ... down." The same character makes light of King's alleged womanizing.

Testy stuff, eh? Just what you might expect from comedies targeted to black audiences after we let Hollywood convince us the slavery-like and horrendous conditions of the Southern prison farm system were somehow "funny." If Life didn't offend us, we can't really be offended. You have to wonder what is making Sharpton and Jackson, who were silent back then, speak up now. Jackson and Sharpton have called for the offending jokes to be removed from video and DVD copies of the movie.

The pity is that, despite what their critics are saying, Jackson and Sharpton are right. There are several things wrong with Barbershop.

It's a comedy -- of the unfunny variety. Thus, the jokes about King and Parks are just two more humorless jokes in a film full of unfunny fare.

Cedric the Entertainer's character, Eddie, is a cheap rip-off of an old Richard Pryor character called Mudbone -- sans the hilarity, of course.

A young black man in the film, the only one with a college education, is depicted as a jerk. Another character, a young black man who is a two-time felon, is given far more sympathetic treatment. When black leaders like Jackson and Sharpton lament that there are "more young black men in prison than in college," they had better start thinking that the reason may be the way college-educated black men are regarded by some blacks and not blame the usual whipping boy, "institutional white racism."

But neither Sharpton nor Jackson is on record as having any problems with the treatment of the black college man/black felon subplot in Barbershop. And the blacks who are voting with their bucks on the value of the movie probably don't have a problem with it, either.

The only right thing about Barbershop is the discussion on reparations, which several of the characters oppose. That doesn't jibe with the current African-American party line on reparations, of course, so guess which sequence will definitely be edited when Barbershop goes the video and DVD route?

But until then, if Sharpton has a real problem with the movie, he can feel free to join one black conservative's continuing boycott of funny Negroes.

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