'Shape Up: Gay in the Black Barbershop’ follows the experiences of barbers and their clients in Harlem, New York.
Michaela Morgan

4 Aug 2017 - 12:42 PM  UPDATED 4 Aug 2017 - 12:42 PM

A ground breaking documentary is exploring the experiences of queer men in black barbershops in the United States. 

Shape Up: Gay in the Black Barbershop’ examines how gay black men negotiate the “hyper masculine spaces”—often having to hide their sexuality.

The film’s director— Derrick Middleton— says that growing up in New York, black barbershops often felt like a gym locker room.

“This was terrifying for me as a young boy who already felt that I was different from other boys,” he tells Take Part.

This discomfort continued on into Middleton’s adulthood when he was kicked out of a barbershop by a homophobic barber—an incident that inspired him to create the documentary.

"The barber who wanted me out of the shop yelled things like 'sissy,' and it was so loud everyone in the shop turned to take notice,” he told NBC.

Will 'Moonlight' finally change the way white people see black men?
The Best Picture Oscar winner has the potential to be a game changer, but white “BBC” fantasies are still preventing many from seeing gay black men as more than sexual entities.

Some gay black men “are out and proud in every aspect of their lives, but they go back into the closet whenever they enter a barbershop,” says Middleton.

Shape Up gives viewers a glimpse into the world of black barbers and their clients in Harlem—although Middleton says it was initially difficult to convince people to participate in the unique documentary.

“The most challenging aspect of filming was trying to get more candid barbershop footage of what I’d call men behaving badly.

“No business wants to be portrayed as a homophobic or misogynist space on film, even if that is the reality,” Middleton says. 

Louis CK has shared a film about a black LGBT+ gang on his site
The comedian is hosting the documentary on his website after it “knocked him right over”.

The actor and director hopes that the film can help to make barber shops more welcoming spaces for the queer community.

“Barbershops are pillars in the black community that have historically been safe spaces for black men to gather and share ideas and information,” he says. 

“I want to work toward ensuring that these sacred spaces are also safe for and inclusive of the LGBTQ community.”

The film premiered last year in the US but recently screened at Outfest in Los Angeles and the San Francisco LGBTQ Film Festival. 

You can watch the trailer below: