by G. Brown
It’s the kind of success story most in Hollywood dream of–one day you’re an unknown, struggling filmmaker and the next day, you’re an Oscar winner!
But that’s only part of the story behind the much talked about Matthew Cherry, Karen Rupert Toliver Oscar-winning short, “Hair Love”.
The film revolves around a young girl named Zuri who is determined to make her hair look like the fabulous style she sees in a video. Zuri grows frustrated as she can’t seem to reach her hair goals. Her father steps in to help and discovers immediately he is out of his depth. For the next six minutes, we join their journey which isn’t so much about the destination as it is about the time dad and daughter spend getting there.
That special love between parent and child is one of the messages the makers of the film hoped to convey. Even the biggest, toughest dad out there can become putty in the hands of his little girl…and no bigger testament to that truth can be found than from the man who wrote the award-winning short film.
Before becoming a filmmaker, Cherry was a wide receiver in the NFL playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Carolina Panthers before retiring in 2007. He may have been gridiron tough, but he wrote and directed this tender story about a father and child.
Cherry knew he had something special to tell in this story, but he needed the financial help of others to believe in his vision. He created a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of $75,000. Cherry reached his goal four times over—raising over $300,000 for his vision.
Cherry didn’t just want to tell the story of a Dad styling his child’s hair, he said he wanted the film to break down barriers and put an end to discrimination. The kind of discrimination that Blacks face every day because a supervisor or authority figure doesn’t like their natural hair, dreads or braids. The kind of discrimination that 18-year-old DeAndre Arnold endured at his Texas high school. Arnold says he was suspended and threatened with being barred from walking in his graduation if he didn’t cut off his dreads. Arnold instead got to walk the red carpet at Sunday’s Oscars ceremony alongside Cherry who heard about the story.
The film is also shattering the long and often told stereotype of Black dads being absent. The Census Bureau says “almost 70 percent of black children are born to unmarried parents”. But that doesn’t mean the dad is absent from the home or the child’s life. A lot of parents co-parent by living in separate homes or even in the same home. Attitudes about marriage and solo parenting(choosing to become a parent without marriage) are changing the way we define the family, but certain stereotypes still prevail.
“Hair Love” tackles those stereotypes as well by showing how many Blacks fathers are there for their families as loving, inspiring role models.
And the film is teaching other races about Black hair, but encouraging Blacks to love every feature of what makes them Black–whether it’s their kinky, curly locks or dark skin. The film is teaching Black children, and parents, that loving yourself is first before you can share it with others.
“Hair Love” is a delightful story about a Dad learning to handle his baby girl’s tresses in Mom’s absence. If you’ve ever had to detangle, comb, brush, oil, braid or style a little Black girl’s hair–you know that the very act is a labor of love. The story that Cherry and Toliver tell isn’t so much a labor of love, but simply a love story… between a father and his child and the viewer and Black culture.