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'Beauty' competition

Renaming its film 'Hair Show,' UrbanWorks ends a legal battle with MGM over rights to the title 'Beauty Shop.'

August 03, 2004|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

The legal and symbolic hair-pulling between MGM and an independent film company over competing projects -- both titled "Beauty Shop" and both set in urban beauty shops -- has been cut short for now.

But the "Beauty Shop" wars may still get ugly in the coming weeks as the two films compete for audience awareness.

UrbanWorks Entertainment, which alleged it had the rights to the title "Beauty Shop" for the upcoming comedy starring Mo'Nique and Kellita Smith ("The Bernie Mac Show"), has decided to rename its film "Hair Show," dropping a legal battle to keep MGM from using "Beauty Shop" as the title for its upcoming film starring Queen Latifah.

The Latifah "Beauty Shop," which also features Kevin Bacon, Djimon Hounsou and Andie McDowell, is a spinoff of the popular "Barbershop" films that starred Ice Cube and Cedric the Entertainer. The studio, which has targeted November for the release, hopes to use "Beauty Shop" not only to extend and expand the profitable "Barbershop" franchise, but also as a key component in its efforts to develop films appealing to urban audiences.

MGM Vice Chairman Chris McGurk said he is not concerned about the rival beauty shop film and possible confusion in the marketplace. According to McGurk, MGM had long ago registered the title with the Motion Picture Assn. of America and a teaser for "Beauty Shop" had been featured last year with the release of "Barbershop 2: Back in Business."

"We have the goods," he said. "We have a major production that is part and parcel of the successful 'Barbershop' franchise. It's an all-star ensemble, and we're operating on an entirely different level."

Meanwhile, UrbanWorks is currently scrambling to put the new title "Hair Show" on promotional materials, trailers and other advertising before the film's Friday world premiere at the eighth annual Urbanworld Film Festival in New York. "Hair Show" is scheduled to be released Oct. 1.

Jeff Clanagan, head of UrbanWorks, called the decision to change the title difficult and risky, but a necessary move to avert a legal battle.

"We have a huge awareness in the marketplace with our title," Clanagan said. "At the end of the day we know we have a good film. Now we really have to buckle our boots and get dirty to reeducate our audience. It's a challenge, both marketing-wise and public relations-wise."

Corroborating on the decision was Magic Johnson. The former Laker star and businessman is an executive producer of "Hair Show," which will run at his chain of Magic Johnson theaters across the country.

"Magic endorsed this decision," Clanagan said. "We thought about the potential for harm if the film got tied up in litigation. We decided we didn't have the luxury to take that risk."

He said UrbanWorks had tried to discuss a settlement on the name with MGM, and filed suit in Los Angeles Superior Court when the studio declined to discuss the matter.

The name change on the film, which was made for about $3.5 million, will cost "in the thousands, but we can't put a price on what it will cost to reeducate consumers." He said the studio had been promoting the movie since it was shot last year.

In "Hair Show," Mo'Nique and Smith play sisters who are hairstylists but have been apart for five years.

In "Beauty Shop," Latifah reprises her character from "Barbershop 2: Back in Business," opening her own beauty shop filled with outspoken and offbeat customers.

Despite the title change and the competition for filmgoers, Clanagan said that "Hair Show" still has the advantage over its bigger-budget rival, which he called a crossover film designed to appeal to all audiences.

Said Clanagan, "From our viewpoint, we've created a movie that will resonate with the black community. Their film has Alicia Silverstone and Kevin Bacon. It's not representative of our true culture. We believe that you can open a film in the black community, a film made by and targeted to black people, and be successful. We don't need to broaden our appeal."

He also hopes "Hair Show" will be helped by the growing popularity of Mo'Nique, who gave a show-stopping performance at this year's BET awards, and by an endorsement by the Atlanta-based Bronner Brothers Hair Show, the country's largest black hair show, which attracts more than 60,000 stylists.

Also important to his movie, Clanagan said, is "Hair Show's" association with the stage play "Beauty Shop," which was a hit with black audiences in the late 1980s and early 1990s. "Hair Show," he said, is in the spirit of that play, and has the blessing of its creator Shelly Garrett.

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