With his new animated short Hair Love, film director and Chicago native Matthew Cherry created an ode to black hair — and black family. On Sunday, the film is up for an Oscar at the 92nd Academy Awards.
Reset sat down with Cherry and Sony’s Karen Toliver, who helped produce the film, to learn more about the project.
On what Hair Love is all about
Matthew Cherry: Hair Love is an animated short film about an African American father who is trying to do his daughter’s hair for the first time. We see that the daughter wakes up and she’s really excited about this special day and basically, she’s tasked with trying to get her father to listen to her and to do her hair for an event that we reveal at the end of the short, which is really touching.
On portraying black family and black fatherhood
Karen Toliver: I’ve been in animation for many years and have never been able to work on something so personal to me and about the black family that … hasn’t really been represented in animation. It was a dream come true to kind of put this family out there, and for me especially, I’ve got two black boys that are going to be going out in the world soon. And I feel like depicting a black father … in ways that, you know, kind of flip what sometimes [is] a negative stereotype about black men was really important to me. I felt like the more we could get this positive image out and show … that dads are really in there doing it like everybody else, and some statistics say black men are probably even more involved in their kids lives, I felt like it was a way to kind of help protect our black men out in the world.
On pushing Hollywood to tell more diverse stories
Toliver: The audience is really speaking that they want to see themselves and representation really, really matters these days. And, you know, when you do it well, the good thing is it becomes a universal story in the specificity of the culture…. The thing about the short is that everybody is kind of claiming it as their own. … People really believe in it. … It’s hard to market these movies and get them out there in the world, but when you already know that people out there want to see it, that’s half the battle. … I really think the answer is to get more … diverse voices in the room when they’re making the decisions because it’ll become a personal decision like it did for me.
On what an Oscar would mean for the project
Toliver: First of all, it’d be a dream come true, but I really hope it gives people out there that watch this just inspiration to tell their stories also. I want more diverse filmmakers that I can greenlight their movies and bring them in. And so I hope it feels like a win for everyone. I think the voices and the people that are telling the stories just need to get more and more diverse every day.
Cherry: I just would love the platform that this would give the project because we put a lot of love and a lot of representation into it, and I think it would just spark a lot more conversations. … It will create more responsibility, I think, for us personally as well, just because, you know, we’re gonna want to continue telling stories at a high level. And [I] think it just kind of validates when you tell a story that’s so intimate, you know, about a black family, … a dad doing his daughter’s hair, that every story is valid in that there is no story that’s too small. As long as you’re coming at it with love and good intentions and with the hope of just creating more opportunities for others, you’ve already won.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire conversation.