This story first appeared in Forbes and is reprinted with permission of the author.
The concept behind a Pixar-style animated short about a 4-year-old named Zuri and her dad, Stephen, is so popular that the internet funded a $284,000 Kickstarter campaign helmed by NFL wide receiver-turned-filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry. In fact, “Hair Love”–the story of a black dad who does his daughter’s hair, for the first time, because mom is away for the day–is so overwhelmingly embraced that Cherry is now literally turning away funds.
“It’s one thing where you wanna say ‘yes,’ but at this point it’s closed off,” says Cherry, whose film should release by August 2018. “We may try to continue to find a way to get people involved if they want to be. But right now we’d say no, which is essentially a weird thing to say. It’s a very strange thing to even say.”
People are excited about this short film, myself included. It’s because the still drawings already provide a glimpse into strong family bonds and the nostalgia behind something every little girl can relate to: Their dad (or granddad, or uncle, or brother) doing their hair. And because Cherry’s film is showcasing a strong black father who wears his own hair in ‘locs and loves his little brown-skinned, Afro’d daughter, the concept is even more personal. That’s because mainstream films don’t often showcase the love between black fathers and daughters. And, mainstream films don’t often showcase happy, smiley, well cared for and much loved darker brown-skinned children at all.
“I think it comes down to this,” says Cherry, whose film resume includes several music videos and “The Last Fall,” which premiered at SXSW in 2012 and took home a Best Screenplay award from the American Black Film Festival. “Our biggest goal and task, in these times, is to normalize black people, you know? I think that’s the biggest weapon our artists in these times can bring to the table . It’s all about humanizing us. Representation matters. We’re saying that I need you to know that I’m a fully realized human being. I am a son. I am a daughter. I am a mother.”
Cherry goes on.
“This wasn’t created to rock the boat, but with ‘Hair Love’ it’s important because we’re normalizing our hair, black fathers and black daughters,” says Cherry. “We’re normalizing things that you don’t (see normalized) in mainstream media.”
Some people might say that black dads aren’t shown as such in mainstream media because they are largely absent, but those naysayers would be wrong. As was pointed out in this article on parenting site Sassy Plum, and by various studies and multitudes upon multitudes of personal experiences, compared to dads of other races, black dads are just as if not more involved in the lives of their children.
“Unfamiliarity and lack of understanding begets frustration and negative assumptions towards black men,” writes the author, who also refers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures that showcase black men are extremely involved fathers.