Oscar Winning Short: Hair Love

Hair Love (2019, Short)
Dir: Matthew A. Cherry

The cultural, social, and political issues surrounding styling black hair are so many and complex that it would be a struggle to adequately cover them even in a feature-length documentary, so this beautiful six-minute animation instead takes on a more heartwarming story.

A little girl, Zuri, tries to style her hair with the help of YouTube instructional videos, later assisted by her loving father, with some amusing and touching results.

I don’t have any personal experience of styling black hair, though I did once help my friend shave his head a bit. The limited extent of my knowledge of the issues involved comes from just having read a few interesting articles about it and seen things touched upon in a few shows and films, including ‘This Is Us’. So I thankfully didn’t watch this completely unaware of entwined topics and the fact that it’s a challenge, a valued skill, even art to style hair like this, one that is interweaved with deep historical, cultural, and social meaning.

What I loved about this short film is how it goes beyond focusing on the socio-political issues, which are fascinating enough in themselves, choosing instead to tell an even deeper personal story about a family and how for Zuri, styling her hair connects her, not just to her heritage, but more importantly to her parents. Making the story so touchingly about a father and daughter tackling a problem together enables a wide audience to relate on some level. Everyone wants a connection with their parents or children, that’s a shared experience that spans all cultures.

The director, Matthew A. Cherry has said that he wanted to make this film to counter the negative stereotypes about black fathers. It definitely does that very well indeed, the dad is very sympathetically portrayed, the full extent of his challenges only understood by the end of the film, and his love comes across abundantly without ever uttering a single word. The beautiful animation style adds much to this warmth and makes these seven minutes both captivating and heartwarming.

Streaming service HBO Max has recently ordered a 12 episode series based on this film, which sounds fascinating, though I wonder what story it will take, whether it’ll be tangentially-linked individual tales or building on this story of Zuri and her family. Either way, I’m interested in seeing it, I’ve enjoyed this 7-minute short very much the few times I’ve watched it so I’m confident it’ll be worth watching.

Unsurprisingly this was tipped as the easy favorite to win the Academy Award for Animated Short and sure enough, it did. It’s a beautiful short film and really well worth watching. Director Matthew A. Cherry is now also working on an animated feature that’s described as an Afro-Futurist take on the story of Pharaoh Tutankhamun which also sounds fascinating, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it puts him in line for another Oscar nomination.


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