Animation newbie Matthew Cherry (“BlacKkKlansman” executive producer) has entered the Best Animated Short Oscar race with “Hair Love,” which warmly embraces black father-daughter bonding over doing her hair for the first time. “I was intrigued about the trend of black dads doing their daughter’s hair on YouTube videos that went viral,” he said. “I wanted to [turn around] those negative stereotypes of dads not being involved in their kids’ lives, and represent that mainstream, modern day family that exits right now.”
The indie-produced short, distributed by Sony Pictures Animation, launched as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017. With strong black industry support, though, it amassing nearly $300,000, the most highly-funded short film campaign in Kickstarter history. Cherry formed a directing team with animators Everett Downing Jr. (“Up,” “WALL·E”) and Bruce Smith (creator of “The Proud Family”), and received early support from Karen Rupert Toliver during her transition from Blue Sky to Sony (where she’s currently executive vice president of creative). She set herself up as producer of “Hair Love,” and arranged for the short to screen theatrically in front of “Angry Birds 2” to qualify for Oscar consideration.
Additionally, Oscar-winning director Peter Ramsey (Sony’s “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”) and Pixar animator Frank Abney (“Toy Story 4”) provided invaluable assistance, serving as executive producers. The hand-drawn short, meanwhile, was animated at 6 Point Harness in Glendale (the Adult Swim series, “Lazor Wulf”). “When we did the Kickstarter, we thought of doing CG,” Cherry said. “But, after doing shorts research, we thought that 2D would be a better vibe, particularly with the way hair comes to life graphically. It has a personality of its own. Bruce Smith brought a lot of his charm and skill set. In terms of animated shorts, I’ve never seen a straight up black family in that medium before. I wanted to really showcase the family dynamic, and the 2D helped it be more nostalgic. And I loved the contrast between the characters and the painterly backgrounds.”
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Cherry knew from the outset that they needed an element to justify it being animated, so they came up with the hilarious hair fight, playing on the dad’s fear about his daughter’s hair. “Also, it was important to have the mom hiding in plain sight as the hair blogger,” he said. “This is a young girl who’s very prideful of her hair and has grown up watching her mom become a natural hair personality on the internet.”
Cherry emphasized the importance of expressing the joy of natural-looking hair. He pointed to the recent controversy involving actress Gabrielle Union (one of the short’s associate producers), who was told that her hairstyles were “too black” before a series of other conflicts got her ousted as a judge on “America’s Got Talent.” This makes “Hair Love” even more topical. “Any other host who has different hairstyles when they’re on a weekly show is not going to get a second look,” Cherry added. “But when we do it with our hair, it becomes this big issue. Or kids getting criticized for wearing their natural hair for certain events and they end up getting kicked out of school or not able to take their school pictures.
“It may not seem on the surface that ‘Hair Love’ deals with social issues, but it does,” Cherry continued. “It’s about the normalization of black hair. We have a touching story, but we were really trying to be very strategic in making sure the dad had natural hair and showing our diversity to normalize that. More than anything, that would be the biggest thing I would love to have come from this project: young girls wearing their natural hair and seeing themselves as beautiful.”