Barbershop: the Next Cut is a love story—love between a father and his son, a husband and his wife, an entrepreneur and his mentor, neighbors and their community, Black folk and our people. It’s clear the film’s director, Malcolm D. Lee, loves us, too. It’s all in the opening montage paying homage to all that’s good and Black that’s come out of Chicago—from Michael Jordan to Oprah to The Obama’s, our nation’s First Family. It’s all in the way the characters reveal our truths, whether in the midst of a belly-grabbing jonesing session or an argument thisclose to a fistfight. That love is woven all up in the music and art on the walls and the rhythm of the story, crafted by the hands of writers Tracy Oliver and Black-ish’s Kenya Barris. Barbershop: the Next Cut is Black and it is beautiful.
This, of course, is Malcolm D. Lee’s way. With two MyBrownBaby favs—The Best Man and The Best Man Holiday—in his directorial arsenal, Lee has shown himself to be a master of ensemble films that strike to the very heart of who we are culturally, emotionally, sexually and more. Which totally explains why the third installment of the comedic film series Ice Cube debuted on the big screen in 2002 and reprised in 2004 is the best one yet. In its latest iteration, Calvin (Ice Cube), struggling to keep his barbershop afloat in a crime-ridden section of Chicago’s south side, merges his business with the beauty shop owned by Angie (Regina Hall), thus ruining the sanctity of the male sanctuary. Hijinks ensue as beauty shop workers and customers square off against their male barbershop counterparts on every subject near and dear to Black hearts, from whether it’s ever okay to beat kids, to why Instagram models with fake hair and body parts stay winning to whether Barack Obama’s done enough for African Americans in his seven years in office. In the midst of it all, a marriage is falling apart, new love is blossoming, and Calvin’s son is being sucked in by the lure of gang life. It is the latter storyline, Lee says, that gives Barbershop: the Next Cut its “emotional backbone,” as Calvin and his ragtag team of hair stylists join forces to stop the gang and gun violence overrunning their community.
I absolutely loved this movie—the storyline, the acting, the comedic timing, the emotional connection, the food for thought it inspired. Then again, I expected nothing less from Lee, who is easily one of our brightest and talented storytellers yet. We’re so pleased that Lee graciously took a seat on the MyBrownBaby stoop to tell us all about Barbershop: the Next Cut, the challenges of filming it, and what’s he’s got bubbling in his filmmaker kitchen. Here, Lee on all things Barbershop. [Note: this Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.]
MyBrownBaby: How has the Barbershop series evolved?
Malcolm D. Lee: I was asked to direct the first Barbershop but I was unavailable. But after seeing both movies, I wished I could have put my stamp on the series. Low and behold, the opportunity came, but then I was a little reluctant, because it was the third of the series. I was like, what is this? Is it just a money grab? Is it timing? Is it a great time to get involved with Ice Cube? I was reluctant, but I read the script that Kenya Barris and Tracey Oliver wrote, and I felt like the script was really good, funny, smart and it had the old characters in there, some great new commerce and an opportunity to be the funniest of the bunch. I saw that there were a lot of opportunities to cast some really funny people; I didn’t want the audience to forget they were in a comedy. That being said, obviously you can’t put a movie in the south side of Chicago without talking about the gangs and gun violence that occurs there on a daily basis. It’s a horrible epidemic of violence right now, and Ice Cube said he wasn’t going to come back unless the film dealt with it for real. I was definitely on board with that and we had to treat it the right way and with respect, even though we were making a comedy. I embraced the challenge in balancing the tones. I kind of pride myself in doing ensemble movies in particular that have a mix of tones.
MBB: I loved the nuance in the movie: there were arguments between characters that spanned a range of subjects, and helped us an an audience celebrate the diversity of thought among black folks. It practically screamed, “we’re not a monolith.”
ML: Definitely. There are a lot of different personalities at a beauty or barbershop. It’s a communal place where, whether you’re living high on the hog, an athlete, politician, businessman, or a thief, pauper or a church kid, you’re coming to the barbershop to get groomed and everyone who meets there is from varying socioeconomics, backgrounds and thought. We all have the same texture hair and we gotta get in there and commune in some way or another.
MBB: Talk to me about the relationship between the fathers and the sons. We just don’t see this kind of interaction in any form, shape or fashion outside of some very limited spaces.
ML: Certainly we hear all these stories about absentee fathers. I have a Black father, I am a black father who is involved in my children’s lives and my dad was involved in my life, and I wanted to highlight that. In the movie, despite that Calvin’s kid was coming from a two-parent home that was working-to-middle class, he was still tempted by the lure of the gang. That’s what happens when kids come of age: they start to tune their parents out. They start to value their friends and schoolmates opinions over their parents because they’re coming into their manhood and they want to express themselves and be validated not as mommy and daddy’s kid but their own person. That’s where we find Jalen (Michael Rainey, Jr.) in that crossroad, despite having an involved dad, being lured by the gang. It’s calvin’s job to help keep him on the straight and narrow as much as he can.
It’s funny, when I read the script, it reminded me of John Singleton’s Boyz in the Hood, which is probably THE movie that inspired me to feel like if I have a story to tell I can tell my story. It was so unique but it had universal themes to it, and I knew I could tell a story like that. So when I was reading this script, we used Boyz in the Hood, which has a very different effect on me as a father than it did as a kid. I talked to Singleton about it and Cube, too. And I said listen, you are now in the Furious Styles role. This relationship between your son and you is the emotional spine of this movie. It’s the backbone. And that has to work more than anything else. And so I looked at that and I also employed Stanley Clark to be the composer on this movie; we’ve done six movies together and he did Boyz In the Hood and that was a very ethereal and impactful score that he composed and I wanted that same kind of tone and feeling for this. So I think it works to a large degree.
MBB: It was beautiful. It’s important that we see those kinds of stories . We get so caught up in this idea that 70 percent of us are being raised in a single parent household, without understanding the nuance of it all. That doesn’t mean Black fathers aren’t involved with their children; it means they don’t all live in the same house with the mothers. Because we never get to see this interaction and care and love and attention that fathers are paying their sons, we buy into the stereotype. We just think that Black fathers and boys are running amok and that’s simply not all that we see in our everyday lives.
ML: Yes. The other thing is, I remember when we were shooting the scene where Calvin is cutting his son’s hair and the way it was written was a little bit different from the way it ended up, but Jalen says, “I love you” to his Dad and it’s like a great moment and they hug. But I remember questioning whether it should be there? And Cube, to his credit, said “Absolutely, it’s a hug! We need to see that.” And I said, “You know what? You’re absolutely right. We do need to see that.” I was at a screening in D.C. and a friend of mine said, “Man, you did it again. You tried to get us to cry again.” I wasn’t trying to do that, but I did want to show a sincere moment in Black life in America. The love between this Black father and his son is a beautiful moment that needs to be seen. Black folk need to emote at the movies like everybody else.
“The love between this Black father and his son is a beautiful moment that needs to be seen. ” — @malcolmdlee on @barbershopmovie”
MBB: Speaking of Black folk emoting, I told my kids, “That movie made me proud to be Black.” I walked away from that screening thinking, “Dammit, if somebody gave me the option of being something other than me, I would always choose us.” Between the montage of all the great things coming out of Chicago in the beginning and end, to the overall message of taking pride in one’s neighborhood to Black folks hearing Luther and losing their minds, it all felt familiar. It was Black as hell.
ML: It is black as hell! I often feel the same way: despite some of the things that I have to endure as a Black man, I wouldn’t want to be anything else. I’m happy being who and what I am.
MBB And that just came out so beautifully in the movie, in every word, every scene, it made clear that, “Yes, we’re scared here, but this is home and we don’t want to leave. ‘Kudos to you. It was beautiful. What’s next on the horizon?
ML: Well, I just shot a pilot for Fox and I’m hoping that we get that picked up. I’m going to be doing an episode of Gina Prince Bythewood’s show she’s doing with Sanaa Lathan, called Shots Fired, and there are a couple movies I’m juggling. But also, I’m spending a lot of time working with the American Black Film Festival and McDonald’s with a contest they have mentoring young filmmakers to encourage them to tell their stories. This contest is about making a 60- to 90-second short film that tells us how you are active in your community. There’ll be three finalists and we’ll announce the winner at the ABFF that’s in it’s 20th year, in Miami this summer. The deadline for submissions is this Friday; you can still get the info at abff.com.
Barbershop: The Next Cut opens in theaters this weekend.
Go to barbershopmovie.com for theaters and showtimes in your area.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.