Get a Haircut! 'Barbershop' Promotes Libertarian Values
by Ari Armstrong, October 24, 2002
I doubt the screenwriters for the film Barbershop would describe themselves as libertarians. The libertarian community generally does such a terrible job reaching out to the black community, I wouldn't be surprised if the writers barely recognized the term. Nevertheless, Barbershop is a great libertarian film that explores the virtues of entrepreneurship and community involvement.
The story centers around Calvin, portrayed by Ice Cube, who inherits his father's barbershop but can't seem to find the motivation to keep it going. He gets sidetracked by get-rich-quick schemes. Minor stories focus on the other barbers in the shop.
The barbershop is a cultural center of the community. People can go there to get spiffed up and also to hear the latest news and discuss their views.
Cedric the Entertainer plays Eddie, the most colorful barber who says if you can't speak your mind at the barbershop, then you can't do it anywhere. He gives Rosa Parks her due but points out a lot of black people went to jail for the same offense.
Eddie mostly hangs around and talks -- he doesn't serve a lot of customers. But one of the most poignant moments of the film is when Eddie takes over on a shave and lectures his young coworkers on the value of building up skills and doing a quality job.
Another character isn't convinced reparations would help the black community. Instead, the key to personal success is hard work and dedication to one's career.
Some reviewers found the lecturing overbearing. But to me the pointed dialogues were the highlights of the film. The themes arise naturally from the story and are illustrated mainly by the actions of the characters. The verbal exchanges are icing.
One of the barbers has "two strikes" against him in the legal system. Unfortunately, he also has unscrupulous relatives who borrow his truck to commit a crime. The film treats the criminals as conniving bunglers who are their own worst enemies. The foibles of the two criminals provide much of the humor for the film.
The barber, on the other hand, is making every effort to do something positive with his life. The barbershop, Eddie reminds Calvin, has long been a place where people can find a second chance. Calvin's father invested in people and made his shop a cornerstone of the community.
For once it's fun to see a movie with a "token white guy." Troy Garity portrays a barber who hopes to open his own shop one day. His Isaac gets into it with Jimmy, a well-educated but pedantic coworker played by Sean Patrick Thomas, who accuses Isaac of trying too hard to act black.
The film strikes a good balance between humor and serious reflection. It rambles from romance to entrepreneurship to family to politics, but it hangs together fairly well.
Libertarians should definitely see the film, as they sometimes forget about their natural if unrealized alliance with African Americans. Fortunately, Jacob Hornberger is actively seeking the black vote in his independent run for Senate in Virginia. (His spats with Browne and the national party made it difficult for him to run as a Libertarian.) Here in Colorado, Ralph Shnelvar has attended a couple black forums, and of course he selected the charming and vivacious Desiree Hickson to be his running mate. (Hickson also organizes Ladies of Liberty.) And libertarians often quote such free-market luminaries as Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams. Too often, though, blacks and libertarians fail to build meaningful relationships.
Perhaps it's appropriate to end on one Eddie's lines. The line illustrates the willingness of the film to deal openly with controversial subjects, and it also serves to warn those with overdeveloped sensibilities:
"FUCK Jesse Jackson!"