Heroes and ho's 

Jesse and Al got nothing on Eddie

I've heard enough from pseudo, self-anointed black leaders. From backpedaling white studio executives. From supposed "cultural experts." At issue: the hit movie Barbershop. A single scene has drawn the ire of Right Revs. Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson. Both admit they haven't seen the film, yet still they pounced on another press opportunity.

In the film, Cedric the Entertainer delivers a brilliant performance as Eddie, a crusty old barber who calls Martin Luther King Jr. "a ho" -- a comment that prompted uncontrolled laughter at the screening I attended.

We can't deny that, along with being an incredible testimony of faith, Dr. King was a man. Flesh and blood, not a deity.

Apparently the dynamic duo of Sharpton and Jackson don't agree. They demanded that MGM censor the scene and issue an apology. (If the studio caves, I'll lead a one-woman boycott and never see another MGM-branded production.)

Eddie doesn't stop with MLK. "Rosa Parks was just tired," he says at another point.

There's no disputing that Parks was brave, if not downright defiant, in the face of discrimination. Hundreds sat down before her, but were beaten and thrown in jail. But that doesn't mean Eddie isn't right, too.

The movie is set in a barbershop on Chicago's Southside -- a place where ideas both prophetic and pathetic fill the air like freshly trimmed hairs. Others in the film challenge Eddie's views on the spot. After all, one can't just go around denigrating a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a wheelchair-bound cultural icon. Curiously, nobody takes issue with the remarks about O.J. or Rodney King.

But Barbershop is about more than a few irreverent comments. A beautician learns real love isn't found with a man who doesn't value her. A smarter-than-most, two-time ex-convict gets another chance (a new job in the barbershop) and doesn't squander it. A bookish co-worker seems to know everything but, as it turns out, knows little. A second-generation shop owner (played by Ice Cube) balances his obligation to provide for his family against his desire to remain true to his father's legacy by investing in his community. In Barbershop, the lessons don't always come from the most likely sources.

Ultimately, my biggest gripe is with the editorialists and talking heads who seem to believe young people (and I'm one of them) don't understand their history. They say we have little appreciation for their struggles and barrier-breaking deeds. They discount our knowledge of John Lewis, Andrew Young, Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, Cornell West and others who fought in the courtroom and in the streets -- marching and sometimes dying for schools, housing, jobs and the ever-elusive American Dream. Because of them, we can star in, produce and direct movies about us and by us. But no gods were born of those courageous efforts.

On opening night, I chaperoned two SUVs full of 13-year-olds to Barbershop to celebrate my oldest daughter Katherine's birthday. I'm proud to say that Ice Cube is one of her heroes. He's made mistakes off the screen, but he's evolved, using his past as a constructive tool to teach lessons of personal accountability.

Too bad we can't say the same for our so-called leaders.

Jackson's been busy squeezing tithe offerings from corporate America, using the lack of minority participation in big business as his entree. Meanwhile, he's erected a tollbooth along the road to civil rights. The first -- and sometimes only -- beneficiaries also happen to be members of his inner circle of major contributors. It's always nice when you can get both sides to pay you for doing what's right.

For his part, Sharpton was taped brokering a drug deal dressed as a cowboy. He smacked HBO with a baseless billion-dollar lawsuit, claiming mental anguish and derailment of his delusional presidential race. If he's that messed up, it's a wonder he can still walk and talk.

Tomorrow the Revs will scan the morning paper looking for a new fight to wage -- not for us, but to justify their own relevance. I think Eddie said it best, "Fuck Jesse." More to the point, he didn't mention Sharpton at all.

Goldie Taylor is an Atlanta freelance writer.


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