DETROIT – Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks will not attend Saturday’s NAACP Image Awards because the event’s host, Cedric the Entertainer, made jokes about her in the film “Barbershop” that she considered offensive.
In a letter dated Thursday, Elaine Steele, a co-founder of the Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, said the invitation was appreciated but that jokes by Cedric’s character in “Barbershop” represent “a sensitive area to us.”
“We with many others do not understand the endorsement the NAACP gave to the hurtful jokes in the movie `Barbershop,’ about America’s civil rights leaders,” the letter stated.
Parks, 90, made history in December 1955 when she was arrested for refusing to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Ala., city bus. Her arrest triggered a 381-day boycott of the bus system by blacks and led to court rulings desegregating public transportation nationwide.
“Barbershop,” last summer’s surprise box-office hit about a barbershop on Chicago’s South Side, featured Cedric as an old cantankerous barber.
In the film, Cedric’s character says other blacks had refused to give up their seats to whites in the segregated South but that Parks got the credit because she was connected to the NAACP.
He also directs an expletive at the Rev. Jesse Jackson and jokes about the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s alleged promiscuity.
Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he was disappointed that Parks wouldn’t attend, in part because “The Rosa Parks Story” is nominated in the category for outstanding TV movie, miniseries or dramatic special.
“Rosa Parks is a member of our organization, has been long before I was born and will continue to be,” Mfume said. “We believe if there is a concern we want to hear it.”
Mfume, who has called the uproar over the lines “overblown,” noted that immediately following the remarks, Cedric’s character is admonished for making them. And while he said they need to be taken in context, he recognized that people have varied opinions on art.
The NAACP has nominated “Barbershop” for outstanding motion picture and Cedric the Entertainer for best supporting actor.
Show-business and NAACP officials from across the country choose the Image Award winners. The 34th annual ceremony is set for Los Angeles at the Universal Amphitheatre, and Fox will broadcast a tape of the program on Thursday.