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‘Barber Show’ Web Series Offers an Honest and Funny Glimpse of Paris's African Community

Capture d'écran d'un extrait de la série web "Barber Show"

‘When a man shows a bit of flesh, do we call him a whore?’  Screenshot from the web series “Barber Show”

“Lorsqu’un homme se déshabille, est-ce qu'on dit c’est une pute ?”

When a man shows a bit of flesh, do we call him a whore?

The web series “Barber Show” is awash with such outspoken comments. This one in particular is taken from an episode which deals with sexism in show business. “Barber Show”, the creation of Hugues Lawson-Body, plunges viewers into the African neighbourhoods of the 10th arrondissement of Paris.

The documentary series is filmed entirely in an African barbershop called Lucky Coiffure (Lucky Hairdo), where the relationships that are forged amongst regulars are as important as having the freshest hairstyle on the street. Babs, a barber of Ghanaian-Nigerian origin, manages Lucky Coiffure with the help of friend Gaye, who mediates a range of debates with the clientèle.

Hugues Lawson-Body is the producer of the series. He was born in Togo and raised in Paris from a young age. A talented and reputed photographer, he has travelled the world capturing some of the best known celebrities, from actor and director Spike Lee to right-wing French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Despite this international success, his favourite past-time is closer to home: photographing the youth of Paris. This led to his discovery of Lucky Coiffure and its cosmopolitan microcosm. Lawson-Body decided to film daily life in the barbershop, where conversations often reflect debates happening elsewhere in society. Six episodes have already been filmed and no subjects are off limits, from the lightest, such as the rivalry between American rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West, to the most dramatic, all seen through the eyes of barbershop regulars.

At times, the generally good-natured and light-hearted atmosphere can become tense. This was certainly the case in an emotionally charged episode titled J'ai deux amours (I have two loves), filmed on November 13, 2015, following the coordinated attacks in Paris that left 130 people dead. The nightmare begins as friends and customers at the barbershop are watching an international football match between France and Germany on TV. As news of the attacks begins to flood the screen, those in the barbershop are shocked. Emotions run high.

Géraldine, a hospital worker, recounts her personal experience during the attacks, as well as her fears and her reaction. Babs asks if Géraldine has hung a French flag on her balcony (a popular display of solidarity and defiance following the attacks). Géraldine retorts that she has no need for a flag to prove her French identity. Babs then preempts an argument about the disparity in media coverage with violence elsewhere in the world, for example, in Nigeria and Lebanon. He explains:

Moi je vis en France, tout ce qui touche la France me touche de près. Ça veut pas dire que je ne compatis pas quand cela se passe en Afrique mais la distance fait que tu n’as pas le même ressenti

I live in France: what affects France affects me too. That's not to say that I don't sympathise when this sort of thing happens in Africa, but the distance means that you don't feel the same emotions.

This episode has been viewed over a million times. Another episode focuses on the style of dress of black American celebrities. Gaye thinks that singer Beyoncé may have had a different reputation if she dressed in another way. His friend explains to him that by dressing as she does, Beyoncé defends the right of women to dress as they wish:

Tu as le droit de t'habiller sexy car tu as un business à défendre, mais elles défendent aussi la valeur des femmes. Lorsqu’un homme se déshabille, est-ce qu'on dit c’est une pute?

[She] has the right to dress sexily to protect her business, but she is also defending the values of being a women. When a man shows a bit of flesh, do we call him a whore?

Jay Z vs Kanye West : le tout premier épisode du Barber Show

"Le level de Kanye West ne pourra jamais atteindre la cheville de Jay Z !"Jay Z ou Kanye West : le tout premier épisode du Barber Show !

Posted by Konbini on Friday, December 4, 2015

What is the secret of Barber Show's success? Hugues Lawson-Body says he is seduced by the charm and language of the regulars :

C’est une institution dans le quartier, une sorte de social club. Médecins, chauffeurs, avocats, entrepreneurs, amis, ils ont l’habitude de s’y retrouver, le soir après le travail. C’est un îlot de sympathie et d’humour, l’ambiance est chouette et accueillante et chaque vois que j’y vais, j’en sors avec la pêche. On parle de tout, y compris des traditions ou des sujets parfois « clichés ». Des go (filles), du racisme, de celui qui des deux rappeurs américains, Jay-Z ou de Kennie West, marquera le plus son temps…voire même des « marabouts ».

[The barbershop] is a neighbourhood institution, a sort of social club. Doctors, drivers, lawyers, entrepreneurs, friends are used to meeting there in the evenings after work. It's a little island of funny friendliness, the ambiance is cool and welcoming and every time I go there I come away feeling great. Every subject is discussed, including those that are sometimes clichéd; from go (women), racism, American rappers such as Jay-Z and Kanye West, even marabouts [fortune tellers of West African origin]

He adds:

La série montre une communauté assez peu représentée.  l’objectif était de témoigner de cette richesse culturelle.

The series shows an under-represented community. The aim was to show the cultural richness of this community.

Facebook users are also positive about the success of the series.

Sofiane Mourier is full of praise for the concept:

Le barber show est un excellent concept d'après moi, vous traitez de sujets très sérieux tout en y ajoutant une touche d'humour, j'apprécie vraiment ce type d'émissions et j'espère que celle ci continuera longtemps

I think Barber Show is a great idea; you cover serious subjects with a touch of humour. I really enjoy this type of show and I hope it will continue for a long time to come.

Marie Tsama feels Barber Show is a fair reflection of her life as an African woman in Paris:

Vous illustrez tout ce qui nous remue . Peace , Joy, and Unity. Merci beaucoup mes Frères et Soeurs

You convey everything that defines us. Peace, Joy and Unity. Thank you, my brothers and sisters.

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