African-American hair has been making headlines for the last few years, usually because another black student has been deemed in violation of the dress code for sporting braids, dreads, or a natural afro.
This year’s Oscar-winning animated short, “Hair Love,” about an African-American dad’s attempt to stay on top of his 5‑year-old daughter’s abundant locks, is the sweet alternative to these upsetting news stories.
Little Zuri’s dad, Stephen, doesn’t have to battle clueless or unfair administrators on his daughter’s behalf, but he does need to gain the upper hand on an adversary with whose ways he’s unfamiliar. (His own hair is styled in tidy dreadlocks.)
It’s implied that tending to Zuri’s hair is not exactly something he volunteered for, and indeed we learn that the task was previously the domain of her mother
In desperation, Stephen seeks advice in the form of YouTube videos, finding a plethora, as did filmmaker and former NFL wide receiver Matthew A Cherry, who referenced some of his actual inspirations in the film, like the viral video of DJ Hines’ attempt to contain daughter Chloe’s thick hair with a ponytail holder, below.
Cherry raised the necessary funding on Kickstarter, and completed the film in about six weeks after posting a call for collaborators on Twitter:
Any 3D artists follow me? I got an Oscar worthy short film idea to go with this image. Get at me
As Cherry points out in the trailer for “Hair Love”’s accompanying book, Zuri’s robust, kinky curls—almost a third character according to illustrator Vashti Harrison—are a marvelous excuse to bust stereotypes by placing an involved, African-American dad front and center.
The tale has also won a lot of fans in the cancer survivor community for its deft portrayal of the effects of Zuri’s mom’s illness and recovery on the family.
Read the San Francisco Film Festival’s teaching guide to “Hair Love” here.
Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Join Ayun’s company Theater of the Apes in New York City this month for her book-based variety series, Necromancers of the Public Domain, and the world premiere of Greg Kotis’ new musical, I AM NOBODY. Follow her @AyunHalliday.