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NPR Arts & Life

'Barbershop' Returns, With Shears In Hand And New Twists In Mind

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now it's time for our Barbershop. That's where we usually gather a group of interesting folk to talk about the news and whatever else is on their minds. This week though we have a special Barbershop. We have one guest to talk about - wait for it - the "Barbershop." Actually, it's the movie "Barbershop: The Next Cut," which opened in theaters on Friday. Sitting in the chair for a shapeup this week is Tracy Oliver, who co-wrote the screenplay of "Barbershop: The Next Cut." Good to have you with us, congratulations. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

TRACY OLIVER: Of course, thank you guys for having me. This is so fun.

MARTIN: Well, you know, we're catching you at a very special moment in your life and in your career. This is your first major movie, as I understand it. I just - it's such a banal question, but I just have to ask, you know, what does it feel like?

OLIVER: It's pretty surreal. At every stage, there's something that happens that I'm like I can't believe that's happening. I cried a little bit at the premiere; I'm not going to lie.

MARTIN: I would too if it were my movie premiere.

OLIVER: Right.

MARTIN: This is the third of the "Barbershop" comedies. It's focused on a barbershop owned by a character played by Ice Cube. You co-wrote the script along with Kenya Barris, who's the creator of the hit ABC TV show "Black-ish." Now, you're taking over something like this that has a history, right, and where people...

OLIVER: Right.

MARTIN: ...Have fond memories of the first two movies. But obviously, you want to put your own stamp on it, put your own voice on it. How did the two of you approach this?

OLIVER: Well, we knew that we wanted to do something different. It's been a while. It's been over 10 years since the original has come out. And the South Side of Chicago in 2016 is a way different South Side of Chicago when the original movie came out. And we wanted to make sure that difference was in the movie. And namely, we wanted to talk about gang violence in the South Side of Chicago and what's happening.

MARTIN: I want to talk a little more about that in a minute. But first, I do want to talk about you. People might know you as the co-writer and co-producer of the web series called "The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl." And you also acted there. You had a role in that. You were the character Nina. You played J's horrible boss (laughter)...

OLIVER: Yes (laughter).

MARTIN: ...If you don't mind my saying that. Let me just play a short clip. Let me just play a short clip for your fans.

(SOUNDBITE OF WEB SERIES, "THE MISADVENTURES OF AWKWARD BLACK GIRL")

OLIVER: (As Nina) I'd like to congratulate A. He's our top salesperson for this week. Let's give him a hand.

(APPLAUSE)

ANDREW ALLAN JAMES: (As A) I found that relating to customers that the future of my job depends on their purchase really helps.

OLIVER: (As Nina) As for the rest of you, well, sales have been exceptionally low this month. That's unacceptable.

MARTIN: Oh, my God, I feel like...

OLIVER: Oh...

MARTIN: ...Intimidates, I don't even work for her. So (laughter) I'm just - that - I was curious if there were experiences from creating "Awkward Black Girl" - "The Misadventures Of Awkward Black Girl" that you brought to the experience of writing for "Barbershop."

OLIVER: Absolutely. I mean, the thing that I'm really passionate about that we got to explore in "Awkward Black Girl" and "Barbershop" is the idea of the awkward or nerdy black character. That's something that didn't really exist when I was growing up. And if that person existed, it was like Steve Urkel. It wasn't that person kind of being cool and relatable. And with "Barbershop," we wanted to do that with one of the barbers. And that character is played by Lamorne Morris from "New Girl." And his character name is Jerrod, but he's definitely from the same vein of "Awkward Black Girl."

MARTIN: Well, one of the other things though that I noticed about the movie is that there is a very strong female voice and female point of view. I want to play a clip. Before I do, I have to warn people listening to our conversation that this is a PG-13 movie, and everybody might not think that the language is suitable for everybody who might be listening. So with that being said, here's the scene.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BARBERSHOP: THE NEXT CUT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: Man, don't nobody want no bald head chick in real life. Even Kanye got rid of Amber for Kim's sexy [expletive].

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Every day you're all here complaining about fake weaves and fake asses, but all the girls that you like on Instagram have exactly that - fake weaves and fake asses. No offense, Draya.

NICKI MINAJ: (As Draya) None taken, girl. We winnin,' and y'all ain't.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) I mean, but that's what dudes want. They want their fantasies.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character) Yeah, a fantasy that you still expect us real women to live up to.

OLIVER: That scene in particular was based on a real conversation that Kenya and I were having about just unrealistic expectations placed on women because (laughter) I all the time would hear Kenya and other dudes, you know, talk about oh, this person's amazing, this person's beautiful and this person's that. And, you know, I can't find a woman like that. And then it's unrealistic to look like that all the time.

MARTIN: So what happened? You and Kenya Barris, your co-screenwriter, were having this debate. And what did you do, just kind of go home and write it down? Or...

OLIVER: Yeah - no, we...

MARTIN: I'm sure it was a little louder than this one...

OLIVER: Oh yeah - yeah, yeah, yeah. We - 'cause we...

MARTIN: ...(Laughter) - we're imagining.

OLIVER: I think what makes us such a great team is that we argue all the time. We have such different viewpoints on everything. And what we did for this one scene in particular, we actually had someone transcribe Kenya and I going back and forth. And then I would say well, what about this? And I'm like well, you know, that person - that - her hair is not real. Her butt's not real. And then she's typing this down. And then later we're looking at it like this is an interesting Mars-Venus discussion. Let's put it into the character's mouths. So all of this was, like, real stuff that we had talked about.

MARTIN: You know, speaking of real stuff, this comedy - you eluded to this earlier - also touches on the issue of gang violence in Chicago. Really it's a theme that carries through the entire film.

OLIVER: Well, it was really important to us. It was important to us as writers. It was important to the producers and Ice Cube and the studio as well. And Cube was the first person that kind of initiated this idea. He sent us an article about a real-life barbershop in the South that had initiated a cease-fire in their neighborhood to kind of stop the violence. And he sent that article to us. And we were like that's something we should do for this movie - that's incredible.

And we tried to strike a really delicate balance in the sense of we didn't want to sugarcoat what was happening in any way. We wanted to make sure that the violence that occurs in the daily lives of these characters and the real people in the South Side of Chicago was represented fairly. But also, we didn't want to overlook the good that's going on in Chicago. You know, there's a lot of, you know, urban prep schools and, you know, the Jackie Robinson baseball league. And there's individual stories coming out that are very hopeful of people that are succeeding.

MARTIN: I do want to mention one more thing, which is a piece that you wrote for cosmopolitan.com. It's titled "I Will No Longer Defend My Choice To Write About Black Women." I mean, you're going from this - you're - you've got a series in development now working with the megastar ballerina Misty Copeland for a drama on Fox. I mean, you've got a lot of other projects in the works.

I mean, you said - look, this is not a post-racial society, but I do have to ask, do you feel like you're at a point where you can say, as an African-American woman, what you want to say about African-American women?

OLIVER: I will say I don't think that we're all the way there as far as, you know, equality and racism and, you know, discrimination on - on lots of levels. However, in Hollywood right now we are definitely in a breakthrough moment. Since I've been out here, this is the best time really to be a diverse voice in whatever way that means, you know, for you as an individual. For me, you know, I've always been attracted to writing about women like my mom, my sisters, my grandmother. And this is the first time since I've been out here where the door has been open for me to go pitch those stories.

MARTIN: That's Tracy Oliver, co-screenwriter for "Barbershop: The Next Cut," which is in theaters now. Tracy Oliver, congratulations on everything and keep us apprised of everything going on in your career. Don't act like you don't know Timothy don't know us when we call. You'll be like who, NPR what?

OLIVER: No, I love you guys. Thank you so much for having me...

MARTIN: NPR - what, who is that?

OLIVER: I know.

(LAUGHTER)

OLIVER: Oh, I think I know them.

MARTIN: Yeah, yeah...

OLIVER: I think I know her.

MARTIN: Thank you so much for speaking with us.

OLIVER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.