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Pixar’s ‘Soul’ touches on importance of Black Barbershop Culture

A place that connects the community.

words by: Alee Kwong
Apr 8, 2021

While the COVID-19 vaccine has started rolling out to the general public, a lot of us are still experiencing the lingering effects of the quarantine blues. Pixar recently released Soul and many people have said that this is not only their new favorite Pixar movie, but one of the most life-changing movies they’ve ever experienced.

 

Without giving too much away, Soul is at its core very existential. Albeit a short title, Soul encapsulates the very essence and purpose of the film and encourages the audience to very intentionally take a look at their lives. The film’s protagonist is a Black man named Joe who, in one part of the movie, finds himself in desperate need of a haircut and goes to his barber Dez. “Joe is a Black man in New York, and part of your time you go through what I call ‘authentic Black spaces,’ where you’re around other people like yourself,” director Kemp Powers said. “The barbershop scene came from that, and a desire, quite honestly, to see Black hair. When giving notes on the scene about Joe getting a suit from his mom, I also mentioned that Joe needs to get a haircut. Folks said that wasn’t as important as him getting a suit, and I begged to differ. For Joe, it would be that important. It was about Joe getting a different perspective about life in his own relationships with several people.”

 

This barbershop scene was not your run-of-the-mill hair transformation scene. Unlike many other movies that use these opportunities for a quick “change-and-go” (usually accompanied by some can-do music), Powers capitalized on this moment to highlight the warmth and deep-rooted sense of love and community that takes place in the barbershop. In the movie, Joe’s body is hosting another character, 22. During this scene, 22 goes on and on about everything she has learned about the universe. During her ramblings, the entire barbershop is entranced and engages in deep conversations with 22. The most powerful part of this scene is that 22 unknowingly created a deeper connection with these people and a community that Joe thought he knew well, all within one trip to the chair. Joe’s barber, Dez, even mentioned that Joe never really spoke to him about anything other than jazz music and you could tell by the end of that scene that Dez felt heard by “Joe” and felt more of an emotionally intimate relationship with someone he had been seeing for years.

 

Kemp Powers saw the barbershop scene as the perfect setup for the movie’s second half. “Not only is 22 learning in that moment, but the inspiration that Joe takes from her gets applied later on.” The presence of Dez offers a deeper cultural message: “He’s satisfied with the life that he didn’t plan for, and that was important for people to know not to be negative about pursuing their dreams,” he said. “But people who win and succeed and are rich are not the only people whose lives have merit. And people who don’t get their dreams are often able to find true happiness.”

 

 

Photo via IndieWire/Pixar