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Animated film fosters hair love for black girls and their dads

When the internet identifies with a project, amazing things happen. A filmmaker in the United States is getting a lot of love – and funding – for his project to create a short animated film about a black father doing his daughter’s hair.

Matthew Cherry, a former professional footballer turned filmmaker, launched a Kickstarter campaign on 10 July to raise money for the production of a five-minute short film entitled ‘Hair Love’. The film stars Zuri, a four-year-old girl with a gorgeous dome of natural ethnic and uncooperative hair. She has to get ready for a big event but her mother, who normally helps her, is away. This means her father, Stephen, who has never done hair before, has to step up to help. He first tries to do it his own way and fails, and eventually ends up checking out natural hair vloggers for direction.

Cherry was inspired by online videos of fathers, especially black fathers, doing their daughters’ hair. “I’m just trying to normalise that because everybody that I know who’s a father, at some point you’re going to have to do your kid’s head even if the wife does it all the time because things come up,” Cherry told PBS NewsHour.

To date, the project has received $175 734 (R 2 270 290), which is 234% of its target. Cherry said he’s received “crazy amounts” of images and emails from people who really connected to the story. “I got an incredible email from a woman who said she saw our campaign and she cried because her husband had passed away not too long ago and she said it really reminded her of the time when he did her daughter’s hair,” said Cherry.

Cherry, who is a huge fan of animation, said he chose the medium because it is a top earner at box offices. “I think animated films can always do a better job of having more diverse representations of people of color.”

The concept art features Zuri in a pink ballerina-style dress and sneakers, and Stephen with long thick locs. “[I]t’s just a really ethnically specific hairstyle that I think would drive home the point about representation.”

Considering the archaic ideas that still exist concerning black hair, the world could do with some ‘Hair Love’. There have been several cases, both in South Africa and in America, where schools have unreasonably policed black children’s hair. On Tuesday, a school in Johannesburg was investigated for allegedly kicking out a group of black girls because they had braids. In May, 15-year-old twins from Massachusettes in the US were barred from participating in school activities because of their hair.

Cherry wants the short film to promote hair positivity. “If one little girl sees this project and sees that this little girl has a big old beautiful Afro and brown skin and looks like her and is confident in how she looks and her hair is a character too, moving around and breaking rubber bands and everything else, like her hair does, they’ll feel more confident about their own hair too and take more pride in it.”

But it’s not just a film about black fathers’ and their daughters’ hair. “I don’t feel you need to be black or a girl or a black man with dreads with a daughter. To me this project is for anybody who has ever loved somebody unconditionally and was asked to do something that they’ve never done before and tried to figure it out. And hilarity ensued.”

‘Hair Love’ will be co-directed by Cherry and Jason Marino. It has Peter Ramsey, who directed the animated film ‘Rise of the Guardians’, as an executive producer. They’ll be working with some of the top black animators in industry to create a film that will challenge negative representations about blackness.

Featured image via Matthew Cherry on Twitter

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