Before Matthew Cherry was a director, or even an NFL football player, he was a kid growing up on the Northwest Side of Chicago, traveling an hour each way to attend Loyola Academy in Wilmette. Now, his new animated show on Max, Young Love, features a Black family living on the West Side.
The show is a continuation of Cherry’s Oscar award-winning short film Hair Love, which was widely celebrated for its genuine look into Black families and hair. The new series centers on 7-year-old Zuri Young Love (Brooke Monroe Conaway) and her parents Angela Young (Issa Rae) and Stephen Love (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescodi). The highly anticipated show is one of the few original pieces of content this fall, due to strikes by writers and actors.
Cherry joined Erin Allen of WBEZ’s The Rundown podcast and talked about his path to TV and animation, the show’s focus on showcasing a real Black family in Chicago and his hopes for future Black storytellers.
What kind of kid were you? So you were into sports, you ended up making films. Were you artsy also?
It’s so funny. My sister is this super top tier painter. Her name is Caitlin Cherry. But it was crazy because we had really no art in the house. My dad was a factory worker, and my mom was a legal secretary. She worked at this law firm [Mayer Brown] in downtown Chicago. It was just a regular Chicago upbringing. Both me and my sister ended up in the arts when we didn’t grow up like that.
How did the film penchant, the media penchant, blossom?
I started off as a production assistant. It’s crazy to say that I [was] retired from football. I was 25, but 25 is still older if you’re trying to be a PA. My first big break though, was when I was being I got a call from Girlfriends. They were going into their eighth season, which ultimately ended being their final season, and I ended up getting a job. Really, I would say [that was] the first thing that really had me thinking about like, OK, maybe I could be a writer and director being on a classic show, where most of the major department heads are Black. [Writer-producer] Mara Brock Akil was very gracious and kind of sharing her journey, and seeing people like Debbie Allen come through and direct episodes … Millicent Shelton. That was really the introduction.
Let’s get into Young Love. I feel like in “Hair Love,” we get a glimpse into these folks’ lives. How does that really flower in the show?
The cool thing about the short was that a lot of the stuff that ended up making it into the series was already in the short. We knew that was gonna be set in Chicago. You look at the apartment, they’re basically in a two-flat brownstone in Chicago. We really wanted to showcase a young millennial family. Dad got tattoos. Mom’s got brown skin, short hair — just a really different look that you haven’t really seen on an animated show.
It’s a very progressive take on coupling. I know there’s an episode about marriage or not.
Listen, that’s what it is. I’m married now, I got an 11-month-old. It’s not about the traditional family roles. It’s a strike right now, you know what I’m saying? My wife got a regular gig. She’s holding it down right now. To me, the rent is way too high to be on this BS about ‘this is what I’m not going to do.’ [The show] is for the family, a multigenerational show.
I wonder if it’s felt like a different kind of vibe, moving from an animated film space to the TV space. I know you’ve worked in both. What is the culture like, among Black folks creating Black animation?
It’s hard. Me being in LA, brand new and in 2007, and not really knowing what the industry was like. I think it’s kind of the same when it comes to animation. I just don’t think enough of us know that you can work in the space. There’s just like, so few of us in this industry kind of on all sides, from executives, to creators to, like, actual animators and people that get into the trenches on making the show. So definitely need more Black people to get involved with animation because you can do it. I’ve seen it. We just need more.
Young Love, as you said, is set in Chicago. One of the episodes is called “Chicago Love.” What are you excited for folks to find out about Black love and life in the city?
Chicago was more than what everybody’s trying to put on in these headlines. Everybody is quick to say, ‘What about Chicago?’ when some gun violence happens anywhere in the country. Chicago is everything. Chicago is hardworking. People that work 9-5s, they’re trying to survive, they’re trying to live, but they also have bigger dreams that they’re trying to work towards. They’re also present for their families, and that’s what we’re representing.
Erin Allen is the host of The Rundown podcast at WBEZ. Follow her on Instagram @erinallen.show.
Mendy Kong is a digital producer at WBEZ. Follow them @ngogejat.