It's been less than a month since DeAndre Arnold, a Texas high school student, was banned from his prom and graduation unless he cut his locs. As news of his story spread on social media, celebrities and activists came to Arnold's defence and encouraged him to stand up to his school's blatant natural hair discrimination. Now, in a significant turn of events, he's proudly wearing his locs front-and-centre at the 2020 Oscars.
Arnold and his mother were invited to attend as the guests of director Matthew A. Cherry, who won the award for Best Animated Short Film for Hair Love tonight. Fittingly, the short film tells the story of a Black father learning to style his daughter's natural hair. Gabrielle Union, Dwyane Wade, and beauty brand Dove sponsored his tickets to the event, as well as full wardrobe, hair, and makeup for him and his family.
We spoke to Arnold during his tuxedo fitting on Saturday, and he told us he couldn't wait to walk the red carpet with the Hair Love team. "I'm so grateful. I never expected any of this," Arnold tells Refinery29. "The message of that movie and my message go together so well. I think it's really amazing how they reached out to me and how we can fight this together."
Together, Cherry and Arnold are advocating for the nationwide passage of The CROWN Act, which is the law authored by California Senator Holly J. Mitchell that makes it illegal to discriminate against Black people for wearing their natural hair in the workplace or at school. Rep. Mitchell, along with Dove, have been fighting to bring the legislation to more states; currently it has only passed in New Jersey, California, and New York.
Arnold has also received the support of celebrities, including Ellen DeGeneres, who invited him to appear on her daytime show and surprised him with a $20,000 scholarship from Alicia Keys. Arnold says the scholarship will help him pursue his dream of becoming a veterinarian. "When Ellen said that school is supposed to be where you learn about cultures — not learn how to shut out cultures — that really stuck with me," Arnold tells us. "The most exciting [thing] is seeing all the people that are on my side. I thought it would be a lot more hate than support."
Tonight, Arnold is looking forward to sharing his story on a massive platform and celebrating a film that's a beacon of light at the Oscars. "As teenagers, we have a voice and we're the future," he says. "I want more cultural acceptance. If there's any other situation that I feel like I need to stand up for, I would do that in a heartbeat."