Update: As presenters and performers take shots at the lack of representation at the 92nd annual Oscars tonight, one win has brought a sliver of hope to the ceremony: Hair Love for Best Animated Short Film. Director Matthew A. Cherry and producer Karen Toliver took the stage to accept the award for the short film that tells the story of a Black father learning to style his daughter's natural hair. Cherry took the opportunity to advocate for Texas high school student DeAndre Arnold, who was his special guest this evening, and The CROWN Act. This legislation, authored by California State Senator Holly J. Mitchell, makes it illegal to discriminate based on hairstyle and hair texture in the workplace or at school.
"Hair Love was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation. We wanted to normalize Black hair," said Cherry, who dedicated the award to the late Kobe Bryant. "There's a very important issue out there, The CROWN Act, and we can help to get this passed in all 50 states, which will help stories like DeAndre Arnold's stop happening."
This story was originally published on January 13, 2020.
This morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed its shortlist for the 92nd annual Oscars, with John Cho and Issa Rae appearing on livestream to announce the nominees in 24 categories. The backlash to the lack of representation was swift, and the snubs considerable: Of the 20 nominees for acting, only one was Black; Jennifer Lopez's anticipated nod for her role in Hustlers was nowhere to be found; and zero women were named in the directing category for the second year in a row.
Thousands of disappointed moviegoers have taken to social media to express their frustrations in the hours since — and rightfully so. But there is one small-but-mighty victory that stands as a beacon of light amid so much controversy: the nomination of Hair Love for Best Animated Short Film.
The idea for the five-minute film, which tells the story of a Black father learning to do his daughter's hair, was pitched by NFL wide receiver-turned-movie director Matthew A. Cherry and picked up by Sony Pictures Animation (with a bonus book adaptation) after surpassing its Kickstarter goal of $75,000 by over $200,000. Little did Cherry know when he launched the crowdfunding campaign in 2017 that his work would appear in theaters and star Issa Rae, much less that his dream of an Oscar nomination would come true.
In an interview at the time, Cherry told Refinery29 that teaming up with a major studio to make the film was little more than a pipe dream. "In a perfect world, I would love to treat it like an indie film and do the festival circuit," he said in July 2017. "I would love if Disney, Pixar, or Sony animations saw it and would want to put it in one of their animated movies. Like maybe a short — that would be super ideal."
With or without a major studio attached, the message of love and inclusivity behind the film has been a constant from day one. "Even though the film features an African-American daughter and her dad, I think it's a universal story," Cherry said. "Parents everywhere can relate to it in the same way. Kids of all ethnicities can see the humanity in this film. To me, it's an important story because representation matters."
With all the conversation around #OscarsSoWhite and the much-needed demand for more diversity in Hollywood, this nomination couldn't have a better platform to drive home the importance of representation.
Refinery29 has reached out to Matthew A. Cherry for an updated comment, and we will update this piece if we hear back.