“Hair Love,” a story about a black father who struggles and eventually succeeds in styling his young daughter’s hair, maybe less than seven minutes long, but the overwhelming response speaks to the longevity of its impact.
The story, which once only existed in the form of a dream and a Kickstarter campaign, is now the basis of a best-selling children’s book and Oscar-nominated animated short film.
“I wanted to give kids a character that normalizes and celebrates black hair,” Matthew Cherry, a former NFL player and the writer and director of the film, told NBC News. “Black fathers get a bad rap in mainstream media, so I also wanted to show them as present and caring, versus the deadbeat dad stereotype that is often ascribed to them in film.”
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In “Hair Love,” the love Stephen shares for his daughter, Zuri, is evident in that he doesn’t give up, even though styling women’s hair is out of his comfort zone.
“I’m a mother of two black teen boys and I worry about how they’re seen and how stereotyped they are,” Karen Toliver, producer of the film, said. “There’s not a lot of movies that reflect black families in a positive light, so that’s initially why I was attracted to ‘Hair Love.’”
Black hair has often been policed, which is why Gabrielle Union, the other producer of “Hair Love,” invited DeAndre Arnold to the Oscars ceremony on Sunday. Arnold is a high school senior who was suspended and told he wouldn’t be able to walk at his own graduation ceremony unless he cut his dreadlocks.
“Media is so powerful,” Cherry said. “When you grow up and watch TV shows and movies and you don’t see yourself represented, but you see every other type of hairstyle represented, that can really affect your self-confidence.”
He added that since the short premiered in August, he has heard from children who’ve watched and identify with its premise.
“To me, that’s really been mission accomplished,” Cherry said. “But the next step is to create real-life change so that black people aren’t forced to change who they are.”
This is why Cherry advocates for the federal passing of the Creating a Respectful Workplace for Natural Hair Act, or CROWN Act, which updates the state’s anti-discrimination law so that the term “race” includes “traits historically associated with race.” California became the first state to pass the act in July, with New York following suit later that month