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‘When Policy and Culture Touch Real People’: ‘Hair Love’ Creator Matthew A. Cherry Invites Teen Sanctioned Over Locs to Oscars, Then Wins Award

Many online erupted in celebration after director Matthew A. Cherry and producer Karen Rupert Toliver’s short film “Hair Love” nabbed a statue at the Academy Awards on Sunday in the category of Best Animated Short Film.

Released in August of 2019 and featuring the voice of Issa Rae, the project tells the story of a Black father doing his daughter Zuri’s hair for the first time.

Matthew A. Cherry (left) and Karen Rupert Toliver (right) took home an Oscar on Sunday, Feb. 9, for their short film “Hair Love.” (Photo: Rachel Luna/Getty Images Entertainment via Getty Images)

Cherry, a former professional football player, started a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 to finance the film and raised over $300,000 after he asked for $75,000.

He also predicted the project would win an Oscar one year earlier on Twitter.

“Any 3D artists follow me?” he asked on May 10, 2016. “I got an Oscar worthy short film idea to go with this image. Get at me.”

Cherry then retweeted that same message after winning the Oscar trophy and wrote, “Nailed it.” 

Besides being praised for the victory, Cherry and Rupert Toliver are also getting credit for bringing 17-year-old Deandre Arnold and his mother Sandy to the awards show.

Arnold, a senior, was told that he couldn’t graduate with his class at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, unless he cut his dreadlocks. Last month, Ellen DeGeneres gave the teen a $20,000 college scholarship for all he’s been through.

During his Oscar acceptance speech, Cherry brought up the Crown Act, which was signed into California law in 2019.

According to its website, the act is to ensure “Protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and state Education Codes.”

The Crown Act is also law in New York and New Jersey.

“‘Hair Love’ was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation,” Cherry said during the speech. “We wanted to normalize black hair. There’s a very important issue that’s out there, the Crown Act and if we can help to get this passed in all 50 states, it will help stories like Deandre Arnold.”

Cherry also dedicated the award to Kobe Bryant due to the basketball legend being killed in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26. Bryant won a trophy in that same category last year for his short film “Dear Basketball.”

“Hair Love had to do crowdsourced funding on Kickstarter in order to be made, because conventional studios and execs didn’t believe in it’s importance,” read one of the tweets about the award, written on Sunday. “It was funded by yall. And I hope all these studios are listening now.”

“Hair Love winning the Oscar tonight for best animated short is a huge win for the CROWN Act and the black lawmakers championing this effort,” someone else tweeted. “Classic example of when policy and culture touch real people.”

“Congrats! So exciting seeing this amazing journey go from a kickstarter to an Oscar!!” a third person wrote.

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