Malcolm D. Lee is an accomplished director who’s done a top notch job of bringing multiple aspects of African-American stories to life on film for over 15 years, so it was only right he steer the ship for Barbershop: The Next Cut.
With fan favorites like The Best Man franchise, Roll Bounce and Undercover Brother under his belt, Lee has become a name associated with quality films that represent Black culture well in Hollywood. We recently got a chance to speak with the man behind one of the most anticipated movies of 2016, about the role Hip Hop culture played in the film, working with the cast, advice for young filmmakers, what we can expect from the soundtrack and much more.
You’ve been in the business for a while and have worked with many different groups of actors. What made working with this particular cast a unique experience?
Well, for one thing, I was coming into an already-established franchise so, there was a little bit of a learning curve. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t doing things that were the same as the other movies. Even though [this film] has a lot of those same elements of ‘anything goes’ at its core in terms of conversations between the characters, whether it be politics, sports, battle of the sexes or whatever, this was still an opportunity to do something different. With this group of actors, they had a lot of respect for me and really did not question the choices that I made. When I made a suggestion or had a direction for them, it was never like “well, why do you want to do that?” There was a lot of mutual respect and they understood where I was coming from or why I wanted to do certain things because I would explain it in a way that I thought made sense. We’ve all either met before or know each other’s work and some of them I have actually worked with before like Cedric [The Entertainer] and Regina [Hall]. So, it really wasn’t that unique of an experience. It was more like, here’s the group and you guys know that I’ve done these type of movies before. And I pride myself on doing them well where everyone is gonna have their moment to shine.
With so many major Hip Hop artists in the film, how much of an influence did Hip Hop culture have on the dynamic between the cast and just the movie overall?
I think that Hip Hop is already a part of our culture in a major way. It’s already naturally integrated into the fabric of most of what we do in our lives; it’s just inescapable. But I will say that each of these actors who are Hip Hop artists played their role well as the character. None of them are in the movie to be rappers, so to speak, but we still touch on all aspects of Hip Hop. Hip Hop is a part of the soundtrack, it’s a part of the fashion, it’s part of the culture, it’s part of the conversations that go on. It’s inherent in the movie. What they did so brilliantly with the casting of the first Barbershop was that they had actors and they had comedians and they had artists all coming together in this place called The Barbershop. It’s very reflective of the microcosms of a real barbershop and of the Black community and of inner city Chicago. So, you know it’s very relatable that there’s not just one kind of performer in the movie. There are comedians, there are actors there, there are artists, so we have a nice mix. And it works very well for the film because everyone plays their part extremely well and embodies those roles.
I was expecting some cyphers but, I didn’t get any of that! [laughs] That was the one draw back that I didn’t get any freestyle cyphers.
You have a great knack as a director for developing characters and bringing a little bit more out of them than what meets they eye with your films. What advice would you have for young filmmakers looking to follow in your footsteps and keep the diversity conversation going while also telling stories in ways that we haven’t seen before?
I came into this business because I wanted to be a filmmaker and I wasn’t seeing myself represented on screen. I wanted to tell a story from my perspective. And come to find out, I’m not the only one that can tell that story but, I’m gonna be the one to tell that story. What I would say to young filmmakers is, tell a story that only you can tell but still make it relatable and universal. I was influenced by movies like the John Hughes movies, you know, Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club. But I was always like,”well, where’s the Black character and what’s the Black guy’s perspective on this?” So, it started with figuring out how to make stories like that that are relatable to me and to my life. You have to know what your subject matter is and what story you want to tell and give it life. Be very clear on what your vision is for your story and tell it in only a way that you can tell it that can be authentic to you.
What can you tell us about the film’s soundtrack or some of the music that we’ll hear in the movie?
It’s a pretty diverse soundtrack. You’ve got artists like Cee-Lo and he has a song “Working Class Heroes” that’s kind of a party, feel-good song. We’ve got a great collaboration from Common and Cube that’s very old-school Hip Hop. There’s this great track called “Good As Hell” from an Atlantic [Records] artist named Lizzo that’s kind of a female anthem. We’ve got something on there from Jill Scott, something from Leela James, something from Lalah Hathaway, something from Kem. It’s a broad spectrum of Black music. You know, when you’re in a barbershop, there’s certain hours of the day when you’re gonna hear Hip Hop; certain hours when you’re gonna hear heart & soul; certain times of the day you’re gonna hear classic R&B. So, we’ve got all of that. As diverse as our cast is, the music is reflective of that and of all aspects of African-American life. The music associated with the film period is a good mix of old school R&B, new artists and Hip Hop.
Why is Barbershop: The Next Cut a film that everyone should see?
Well first of all, it’s a very funny movie. You’ll be very entertained. We also deal with a lot of what’s happening currently in the nation; specifically on the South Side of Chicago. We talk about everything from sports to politics to male/female relationships and we take the issue of gun violence and gang violence in Chicago head-on through the father-son storyline between Ice Cube and his son. So, there’s a lot to the movie. You’re definitely gonna laugh and you’re gonna feel it. It’s gonna be something you can take your group of girls to, guys can go, it’s a good date movie and it’s a good movie for families. There’s a nice, relevant message as well. Something for everybody.
Barbershop: The Next Cut hits theaters on April 15 with the soundtrack officially releasing just a few weeks later on May 6.