Rising to the occasion with “Hair Love”

How I came to watch “Hair Love”

I love animation short films because they always deliver a beautiful and fundamental truth or lesson about life. So, whenever I have some free time on my hands, I YouTube “short films” or “animated short films” to see whether there are any new ones that I have yet to watch. This is how I came to watch Hair Love.

The first time I watched this short film was in 2019 – before it won Best Animated Short Film at the Oscars.

“Hair Love” poster

What is it about?

On my cellphone screen appeared this beautiful heartwarming story of a little girl who wants to do her hair in a specific hairstyle. Later in the story, you learn that this is one of the hairstyles she and her mother did together in one of her mom’s hair vlogs.

However, since her mother is ill and at the hospital – a fact that is also only revealed at the end of the short film – Zuri needs to do her hair herself. After struggling and messing up her hair, she has to rely on her father to help her.

Short Film: Hair Love produced by Matthew A. Cherry and co-produced by Karen Rupert Toliver

Why “Hair Love” is a beautiful story to me

Hair Love is such a mundane story. On the surface, it really is just about a father doing his daughter’s hair – but that is also what makes it so beautiful.

It is about someone doing your hair for you. An act that is associated with someone taking care of you, spending time with you and loving you. It is particularly touching that Zuri’s father is the one that ends up doing her hair.

It is so sweet and precious because society created this idea that playing with hair isn’t considered a thing men do. However, this short film challenges this perspective. Normalising the idea that in a modern-day society where both parents have to work, it is the obvious thing that both parents can be involved in getting their kids ready.

Apart from being so touching – the film presents this everyday scene of a modern-day family in such a comical way. It is hilarious because we can all relate to it to some extend.

While the film is obviously very unapologetically black it is also very universal because it just speaks to … you know with kids they sometimes ask you to do stuff that you don’t know how to do, and if you love them you’re going to figure it out and stepup. That is really what the story represents.

Matthew A. Cherry
Some of my favorite scenes in the short film

I love the opening scene when Zuri starts doing her hair early in the morning. She starts off full of confidence and determination, but ends up looking like a total mess. All the while her mother’s voice in the hair tutorial goes on saying; “Now wasn’t that easy?”

Before and after film still of Zuri’s hair attempt from the short film “Hair Love”

The contrast between Zuri’s expectations and her end results in this scene, toped with the irony of her mother’s voice is hilarious because a lot of us knows that feeling. The feeling of having big expectations on how things are going to play out and being frustrated and demotivated by our end results. Especially when you are little or still learning how to do something.

Another scene that made me roll with laughter was when Zuri’s father rushed in to help her with her hair. I enjoyed the comical manner in which the father imagines Zuri’s hair becoming alive and fighting him in a boxing match.

It is such an accurate depiction of what a lot of fathers experience when they are faced with doing something in which they do not have a lot of confidence. This is also why it is so beautiful when he decides to try – despite his ignorance of all the beauty products and feeling overwhelmed by it.

The end results and what he gets for stepping up as a father is irreplaceable. It creates a special bonding moment with his daughter. Allowing their relationship to grow as they express their love and appreciation for each other.

Then the scene that brought me to tears! The ending. When I realised why Zuri wanted to do her hair in this particular style.

It wasn’t all about looking nice for herself. This hairstyle resembled a special and precious time she and her mother shared and this was a gift Zuri wanted to give her. Zuri also wanted to show her mother that she still saw her as someone who is strong and beautiful.

Since her mother was ill she has lost all of her hair and as it seems with that of her self-love and confidence as well. By doing her hair and drawing a picture for her mother, Zuri shows her mother that to her, she still is a beautiful and strong woman.

This is what touched my heart so deeply and watching Zuri’s mother rising to the occasion as she takes off the cloth wrapped around her bald head – owning her new look – gave me goosebumps! Even though she is going through a hard and difficult time, Zuri’s mother decides to stand strong and remain a confidant role model in her daughter’s life.

The story and minds behind the making of “Hair Love”

How it all started

Hair love is a 2019 American animated short film written by Matthew A. Cherry. This short film was produced after a Kickstarter campaign was launched in 2017 – inspired by a bunch of viral videos Cherry saw about African American fathers that were doing their daughter’s hair.

It seemed to Cherry that people were sharing these videos mainly because they weren’t used to seeing them. This surprised him, since he knew many loving and supporting African American fathers.

Therefore, Cherry decided to launch a Kickstarter to create an animated short, showcasing a strong black family where a dad was present in his daughter’s life. With this, he wanted to create something that would contribute to breaking the general stigma that black men were bad and unsupportive fathers.

Interview with Matthew A. Cherry on The Daily Show on his animated short film “Hair Love”
Other themes in the short film

Apart from this theme, it was important to Matthew A. Cherry and his co-producer, Karen Rupert Toliver, to create a short film that was an accurate and authentic representation of people of colour in animation.

In cartoons is how we first see our movies and how we shape our lives and see the world.

Karen Rupert Toliver

What we get exposed to when we are little plays a huge part in what we perceive as normal and beautiful. It also forms our ideas on what we would like to wear, become, do etc. That is why it is so important to have different variations of representations of people, culture, believes styles and family setups. If you do not see yourself represented – you start to think what is wrong with me?

With Hair Love, Cherry and Toliver created a representation of a strong modern black family where our main character, Zuri, is already comfortable with her hair and grew up in a family setup where she was taught, self-love.

This is so beautiful because this shows and teaches children of colour that identify with Zuri, that it is normal to look different from other people of different ethnic and cultural groups. That they are just a different type of beautiful.

Interview with Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver on the making of “Hair Love”

The importance of representations

As a white person, I believe that short films like Hair Love are not only vital for children of colour to see themselves get represented, but I also firmly believe that representations like these will teach other children from different ethnic and cultural groups to appreciate different types of beauty.

If you do not see accurate and authentic representations of people who are different from you, you run the risk of starting to believe you are the norm. This is something I believe to be very dangerous.

That is why I am so grateful to Matthew A. Cherry and his team for creating this beautiful, heartwarming animation short and contributing to the diversity and colourfulness of our world. I hope that there are still many more to come.

Irene

Art, in all its forms, has the power to make the viewer see the world with new eyes. It tells stories, creates awareness and changes our perspectives. This blog is dedicated to appreciating art and artists. Focusing on how they bring colour into our ordinary lives.

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