‘Barbershop’ Controversy Resurrected at NAACP Image Awards

AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The story of Rosa Parks won two NAACP Image Awards on Saturday, although the civil rights pioneer shunned the event over its nominations for the film “Barbershop,” which features a character making unflattering jokes about her and other black leaders.

CBS’ “The Rosa Parks Story” won both its nominations: best TV movie and best TV movie actress for Angela Bassett, who starred as Parks.

“(Parks) wants to thank the NAACP for lifting her up. She wants to thank all of you for loving her,” executive producer Willis Edwards, a friend of Parks, said onstage on her behalf.

“She was not happy with what was said about her and she has a right to do that. She has the right not to come,” he said backstage, adding he believes she will stay committed to the NAACP despite the rift.

Meanwhile, “Barbershop” lost three out of its five nominations early in the show, including a supporting actor bid by Cedric the Entertainer, who hosted the Image Awards and played the character who made the remarks that started the uproar.

Its other nominations were for best picture and best lead actor for star Ice Cube.

Parks, now 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 that desegregated public transportation nationwide.

Cedric’s character in “Barbershop” is a cranky old-timer trying to prove that no conversation is off-limits in the barbershop. He says other blacks also had refused to give up their seats, but 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.

The scene sparked complaints from Jackson and civil rights activist the Rev. Al Sharpton, but became a $75 million hit.

The film’s producers, director and screenwriter apologized, saying they didn’t intend to offend anyone, but defended their right to poke fun.

Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, has previously said the uproar was “overblown” and noted the film does not endorse the remarks because other characters become outraged.

In a letter dated Thursday, Elaine Steele, a friend of Parks and co-founder of the Detroit-based Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, said: “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.”

With the awards, the NAACP honors people and companies that support positive change for blacks in arts and entertainment.

Cedric has had four consecutive Image Awards for comedic supporting TV actor for “The Steve Harvey Show.” He also stars in his own Fox variety show, “Cedric the Entertainer Presents,” which lost the variety show award to BET network’s “A Tribute to Stevie Wonder.”

Show business professionals and NAACP officials from across the country choose the Image Award winners.

Among other winners, Halle Berry won the film supporting actress award for the James Bond film “Die Another Day,” defeating a group that included rapper-turned-actress Eve for “Barbershop.”

Berry said she wasn’t offended by “Barbershop,” but said she supported Parks’ decision to avoid the show. “I think it’s everybody’s right to decide what’s best for them, and if that’s what makes her feel good and that’s what she needs to do and make her statement, hey, I say go all the way,” she said.

Activist Pearl Jr. said she objected to Cedric’s hosting of the Image Awards. “We want Cedric to apologize on the air,” she said. “We don’t think he’s racist, but he made disrespectful comments that could influence impressionable youth.”

Pearl had said she would protest the event, but no protests were visible anywhere around the Universal Amphitheatre, where the ceremony was taped for broadcast March 13 on Fox.