I'd describe it like the Coliseum. It's an arena. And it's a safe haven for people just to be.
June, as one of the featured barbers in the film, how would you describe yourself?
I'd describe myself as a hard workin' man. A hustler. I've been cutting hair for about twenty years, and I just felt like the world needed to see what barbering was really all about. And I kinda started taping in the barber shop myself at first. And then I hooked up with a friend of mine, Reggie Williams who was in the shop one day and he saw the energy while I was taping, and we talked and kinda just kept it moving.
Reggie, you're a client, yes?
Yeah. It's funny because I used to go to Malik, June's brother, who's also prominently featured in the film. Malik was my barber for about four years. I was in the shop one day, and the shop was always very animated. Like June said, there was a camcorder there, and there was a guy, Sugar Dice, who's also featured in the film, who was really expounding on the Middle East and foreign affairs and things like that, and it was just fascinating. And I asked June what was going on and he said, Reg, you know, I think this would be a great idea for a documentary. And I agreed. So I said, I really wanna be involved because I feel passionately about expressing the different types of black men that are out there, and giving a window into their world. At that point, I took the concept to another good friend of mine who I thought would be great to work with, (HBO's) Amani Martin.
Reggie actually called me for lunch said he had something he wanted to talk to me about. I'd never been to Levels (the barbershop featured in the film). But this was something that after looking at the first page of Reggie's pitch, I said, Yup, this is something I definitely would be interested in getting involved in. We then approached Bill McCullough, a very talented editor who has his own production company. And Bill came in, and then it became the gang of four.
How would you describe the environment of the barbershop?
I'd describe it like the Coliseum. It's an arena. And it's a safe haven for people just to be. You know? Everybody wants to be somebody, and the barbershop is pretty much a forum where you can be that person you wanna be, even if it's not who you really are, or if you wanna just be somebody that you're pretending to be. You can be it in the barber shop. It's freedom. For me, it's sport.
Within sex there's a connection between people. Within barbering there's a connection between two people. So you get that open feeling. It's intimacy.
You describe yourselves as barber psychologists. Can you elaborate?
Well I feel that I'm in touch with people. You know, I've been cutting hair for twenty years, and it's not just about taking hair off a person's head, it's about the connection between two people. That's why people talk to their barbers, because you're totally inside their spirit. You're touching them. You know, sometimes I actually forget when I'm cutting hair that my hands are usually always on a person's shoulder. What that does for me is it relaxes me into a person's energy. So we become one to a certain degree. And when you got that oneness it's... it's kinda like sex almost. I know that sounds kinda crazy, but it's a connection. Within sex there's a connection between people. Within barbering there's a connection between two people. So you get that open feeling. It's intimacy.
You know, in the black community, especially in certain types of neighborhoods and Harlem's a great example, black men need to keep up a certain image, because it's tough. You don't want somebody to take advantage of you. So a lot of times, what that does is that causes people to put up a certain kind of wall. And so, there are not a lot of outlets. So you might just be a brother living up in Harlem who isn't able to kinda talk, you might have a wall up with your wife or with your girlfriend. You might have a wall with your boys where you can't kinda tell 'em what's going on. You may have a wall at your place of work. But for whatever reason, when people enter the shop, especially when they have a barber that they can connect with --and June is great for this--they open up in a way that they might not be able to do otherwise. And that's why I think June is the barber psychologist.
It's literally and metaphorically a place where you can go in and let your hair down. It's about more than just being transformed in a physical way, you feel better about yourself mentally and emotionally, but it's also a place where if you're feeling down, you can go in and just the transformation you get from the feeling of community, the feeling of brotherhood can make a huge difference in your general demeanor.
I think black men are socialized differently than other men in America, and when you take a place like Harlem where we shot the film, Harlem has a reputation for being 'fly', for people being fabulous, and for people being strong, you know? So when black men come to the barber shop, they wanna preach, they wanna feel free to let themselves out--to gain, and to give.
I really want to show that cutting hair is a universal thing. It brings the universe together, so to speak, where people can connect.
Tell me about "the hustle". What does that expression mean?
You got barbers who just kinda sit in the barber shop all day and wait for people to come to them. Then you got a guy that realizes that it's an art, but it's also a profession, and you have to hustle. So, if I'm slow on a particular day, I just get outside and bring somebody in. I'm gonna build up this energy. It's the hustle. It's kinda like scoring a basket in basketball. You score a basket, you score another one and all of a sudden the basket just gets bigger. Same thing with barbering. It's a sport. That's the hustle.
What do you hope the audience will take away from the film?
I hope what the audience takes away is that we all have a lot more in common than we believe. I think the general population has been bombarded with certain images of black men as athletes, as entertainers. But we are all that and more. We're all share many universal qualities, and I think that this bridges the gap of humanity.
I also think there are certain stereotypes, and the most common stereotype for black men is not that they are intelligent. And I think what you see in the barber shop are guys who are maybe on the street, guys who might be working class but who have intelligent political opinions. So I hope it brings a greater appreciation for that kind of black intelligence.
For me I really want to show that cutting hair is a universal thing. It brings the universe together, so to speak, where people can connect. I also want people to see the diversity of black men, seeing that we're all so different, and not putting us into one category. And I want people to see barbering as a sport, showing that it's no different than a guy who took a skateboard and made millions with it. It's entertainment