In 2017, director Matthew Cherry was inspired to make his animated short Hair Love after he saw several viral videos of Black fathers doing their daughters' hair. Soon after, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his project, and three years later, he found himself accepting a top honor for the work.
On Feb. 9, Cherry and executive vice president of creative for Sony Pictures Animation Karen Rupert Toliver accepted the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film for the project, which tells the story of a father learning to do his daughter's natural textured hair while her mother is in the hospital.
During their acceptance speech, Cherry took the opportunity to bring further awareness to the CROWN Act, the legislation that prevents employers and schools K-12 from discriminating against hairstyles that are typically worn by people with Afro-textured hair. As of press time, the CROWN Act has been passed in New York, California, and recently introduced in New Jersey.
"Hair Love was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation, and we wanted to normalize black hair," Cherry explained during the acceptance speech. "There's a very important issue that's out there, the CROWN Act, and if we can help get this passed in all 50 states, we can help stories like Deandre Arnold's to stop from happening."
Arnold, who ccompanied Cherry and Rupter Toliver to the Oscars, is a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belview, TX. He was suspended for his locs, which went against the school's dress code. The school threatened he wouldn't be able to walk graduation if he didn't cut his locs. He was also banned from going to his senior prom. The CROWN Act aims to put an end to this type of discrimination accross all 50 states.
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On top of normalizing black hair, Cherry wants Hair Love to help dissolve gender norms. "Hair Love was really born out of wanting to kind of flip those gender norms that we normally see," he told reporters in the Oscars press room. "You know, it's so crazy because oftentimes fathers, when they do basic tasks in the household, it's like, oh, my God, look at fathers, like, being dads, you know what I mean? For us, we wanted to help normalize it."
With proper representation, animation can be a powerful platform for spreading light on social issues. "You know, all throughout the years, you know, there hasn't been characters in the — specifically in animation that look like you. This film was made for you to see yourself," said Cherry. "We have a book that is out in stores as well, and I think the combination of the short and the book has really just been great. We've been seeing the real-life change and the impact with kids reading the book in class, seeing the book in Target and saying, 'that's me.' So it just means the world."
With reporting by Brandi Fowler.