Interview with Matthew A. Cherry, director of the short film Hair Love
A father left alone with his daughter and a mountain of indomitable hair. The mother in the hospital – her head shaved – to fight cancer. Director Matthew A. Cherry won the Oscar for Best Short Film because Hair Love speaks of love, rebirth, self-esteem, and changes the role – from appearance to the protagonist – usually assigned to the father in the “minor” scenes of family life.
He won the Oscar because with his animated short he fights – also – a political battle: “If we could pass the Crown Act (Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) in all 50 American states,” he Cherry declared on the award night, “we could prevent stories like Arnold DeAndre’s from happening again.” Arnold is an eighteen-year-old Texan who was barred from entering the college campus if he hadn’t cut dreads first.
But the discriminations are many. In America, an African American woman with natural hair is rated “less suitable” for getting work than another woman with different hairstyles. The percentage varies from hairstyle to hairstyle: do you have pigtails? You are considered 31% least reliable. Do you prefer loose frizzy hair? 24% less (Unilever data).
The Crown Act works to ensure that discrimination against African American hair (in schools and at work) is prohibited by law. It has already happened in the state of NY, New Jersey, Washington, California, Virginia, Colorado. But the road is still long. Projects like Hair Love they fight alongside them, as director Matthew A. Cherry explains below.
African American hairstyles have always had social and political value. How can they be decisive for individual emancipation?
Hair is tied to self-confidence. Where he sponsored our campaign for crowdfunding on Kickstarter, we have carried out a project on self-esteem together. A statistic showed that 6 out of 10 girls with curly hair were not cute and preferred to straighten them. The more we create images that look like them, the more likely they are to accept them as they are. Hair Love it is a love letter for all black girls who struggle to recognize themselves.
What is the first definition you would give of your short film?
I wanted to tell the love and pride towards one’s hair, to normalize afro hair. And highlight the black dads who are usually not positively represented in traditional media.
An artist, a film or a work of art on the hair that inspired you?
Every time I see black hair treated, it is a source of inspiration for me. An example? Issa Rae and her TV show insecure, where people show off their looks with pride.
Is there a scene in the film that you prefer?
The end. It shows that, to the same extent that it is important to love your hair, it is fine even if you don’t have it. It shows a mom who has lost them, in a very vulnerable state: her daughter and husband are very good at making her understand that everything will be fine.
This short reverses some familiar stereotypes.
I believe it is the main topic covered by Hair Love. Gender conventions are no longer what they used to be, fathers are also capable of dealing with what is not part of their traditional tasks. In 2020 mothers and fathers must be able to do everything it takes to raise their children.
Opening: the protagonists of the 7-minute short film Hair Love, directed by Matthew A. Cherry and illustrated by the artist Vashti Harrison (Sony Pictures Animation). Hair Love is visible for free on YouTube.