For evidence that women in film are pushing into male-dominated spaces, one might point to Wonder Woman, who’s currently bailing out the testosterone-laden title characters in “Batman v Superman,” or the femme foursome who will reshape the “Ghostbusters” franchise this summer. But gender expectations will be restyled on a more down-to-earth level April 15, when the third installment of the “Barber Shop” series arrives in theaters.
“Barber Shop: The Next Cut” seeks to expand and reinvigorate the comedic franchise of the early 2000s by putting women front and center in the workings of the shop, as always, a pillar of African-American commerce and culture.
While the 2004 sequel, “Back in Business,” had a subplot that included Queen Latifah as the owner of a women’s styling salon next door, which laid the groundwork for her 2005 spin-off “Beauty Shop,” this time around the women are working elbow-to-elbow with the men. The barbershop is still operated by Calvin Palmer (Ice Cube), with a mostly male crew headed by Eddie (Cedric the Entertainer). But in the new iteration, the guys have taken on female business partners — and comedic foils — including characters played by Regina Hall, Nicki Minaj and Margot Bingham.
A dozen years after the last installment, the filmmakers, led by Cube, who also produces via his Cube Vision shingle, decided that bringing women into the fold was the best way to contemporize and expand the appeal of the story. They brought on writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver to fashion the makeover.
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“I feel like we are moving into modern times and that is what a modern salon looks like,” says Barris, creator of ABC’s barrier-pushing “Black-ish.” “I thought it was a way to start a Mars-Venus kind of conversation.”
Oliver, a writer and executive story editor on the LeBron James-produced “Survivor’s Remorse” for Starz, who has worked with Barris, said it helped that the duo has its own feisty dynamic. “I have heard him give advice on dating, and it’s just horrible advice,” she said with a laugh. “We always disagree — on everything. There are very few moments we are on the same page. So we brought that to the characters.”
One of the tensions in the film is the dynamic between Terri (reprised by Eve) and Rashad (Common). She’s the principal breadwinner of the family, and they deal with the challenges that brings. “The film looks at what that does to their relationship and what it does to the dynamic in the barbershop,” said Jonathan Glickman, president of the motion picture group at MGM, which oversaw production and is distributing the picture with Warner Bros.
The original “Barber Shop,” in 2002, brought in $76 million at the domestic box office on a modest $12 million budget, while the sequel scored $65 million and cost $30 million. Both films were released by MGM. Box office experts said “The Next Cut” should benefit from the expanded, female-friendly cast and from another kind of diversity — being a comedy squeezed between two superhero franchises: Warners’ “Batman v Superman” and next month’s Disney tentpole “Captain America: Civil War.”
Pop star Minaj, in her second significant film role after playing the office assistant in “The Other Woman,” is a centerpiece of the new “Barber Shop.” Her Draya pushes for women to be forceful in asserting their sexuality — an idea that brings controversy to the shop.
Barris and Oliver said they worked hard to create characters that didn’t fit easily into old stereotypes. So one of the guys is a nerdy, overly analytical sort, while and one of the women is more hippie than flygirl. “We have a lot of different voices, a lot of different points of view,” said Barris. “We bring a perfect jambalaya.”
While “The Next Cut” is banking more on humor than social commentary, the coming together of black men and women in the hair-care business reflects a real world phenomenon, to a degree, said Quincy Mills, a Vassar College history professor who wrote “Cutting Along the Color Line: Black Barbers and Barber Shops in America.”
Barbers and hairdressers sometimes share a shop to defray costs, with the bonus being the creation of a social hub, Mills said. He noted his distress at seeing many reporters cover black reaction to Barack Obama’s first presidential run largely through the lens of less-gender-integrated barber shops, thereby excluding most women.
“With many more women in the shop in the film, you get a much more authentic, richer conversation, whether they are talking about politics or anything else,” said Mills. “I think it’s fantastic to begin to blur those gender barriers.”
P. Frank Williams, VP for strategy and content at digital HipHopTV, said the film is also making itself current by addressing issues raised by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, like violence aimed at young black men.
“It’s a barbershop that is dealing with things that are front and center,” said Williams. “The franchise has succeeded by not avoiding things that are real.”