''Barbershop'' jokes anger civil rights activists. Despite apologies from the filmmakers and MGM over barbs about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, Jesse Jackson wants the offending lines cut from the video

By Gary Susman
Updated September 24, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
Barbershop: Tracy Bennett

”Barbershop” may have spent two weeks as the top movie in the country, but some civil rights activists aren’t fans. They object to a few jokes by Cedric the Entertainer’s character, a gadfly barber who casts aspersions on such civil rights icons as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, and Jesse Jackson. Jackson told USA Today that he’d heard objections from several current civil rights leaders, and that, while the filmmakers and even the studio has apologized for the offending dialogue, Jackson told the Associated Press that he would still like the producers to cut the offending lines from the home video release of the film.

In the movie, Cedric’s character Eddie cites King’s reported promiscuity and says that Parks, who famously refused to sit at the back of a desegregated bus, wasn’t special, ”just tired.” He also addresses Jackson, whose picture adorns the barbershop wall, with an expletive. Cedric told USA Today he wasn’t ”all that comfortable” with the lines but recognized their comic potential. ”Personally, I had some qualms with saying that,” he told the paper. ”But every situation has an instigator, someone who likes to charge the room and say something controversial. That’s what my character does in the movie.” Cedric apparently had no qualms about showing the relevant quip during a recent appearance on ”The Tonight Show” to promote the movie.

Jackson told the paper he had seen an early draft of the script with the joke about himself but not those about the other activists. ”I could dismiss the comments about me,” he said. But Dr. King is dead, and Ms. Parks is an invalid. There are some heroes who are sacred to a people, and these comments poisoned an otherwise funny movie.” He also said he’d fielded complaints from the King family, the Parks family, Al Sharpton, and several women’s groups.

The filmmakers quickly spun to distance themselves from the offending dialogue. Distributor MGM called the lines ”one character’s opinion” in a statement, adding, ”It’s not an opinion shared by the film itself, the filmmakers or MGM Pictures.” Producer George Tillman told AP he’d apologized to Jackson on behalf of everyone involved in the film, saying, ”I completely did not mean to offend anyone.”

Jackson, however, said the filmmakers needed to do more than apologize, urging them to cut the offending words from the DVD and VHS releases. ”The apology is a step in the right direction,” he told AP, but he said he would ”keep appealing to them” to snip the dialogue.

Ice Cube, who stars in the movie, noted that the other characters in the shop immediately condemn Eddie’s remarks. ”People are making too much of it,” Cube told USA Today. ”It’s just a funny movie about a barbershop, and no one is exempt [from comment] at the barbershop. Just because we talk about people doesn’t mean we don’t love these people too.”

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