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Oscar-Nominated Director Matthew A. Cherry On 'Hair Love' And Our Dazzling Relationship With Afro-Textured Curls
Long before Black people knew about the differences between 4C and 3B hair textures, we knew our kinks and coils were to be brushed down, pressed, straightened, and tamed. Thankfully, times have changed. With the natural hair movement revving up in the past decade, Black people across the globe have become more in-tuned to the beauty of their tresses. In 2017, filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry, a former NFL wide receiver, became increasingly aware of this desire to connect with our roots. However, a lack of representation of natural hair continued to fester in popular culture and Hollywood.
Teaming up with masterful artist Vashti Harrison and Sony Pictures Animation executive, Karen Toliver, Cherry hit the ground running and launched his Kickstarter campaign for Hair Love. The warm and delightful Oscar-nominated film follows Zuri, a bright-eyed young girl who wants her gloriously voluminous afro to be styled perfectly for a special occasion. Zuri's father, Stephen, doesn't typically take on the task of doing his daughter's hair. Yet, with the help of a natural hair vlogger named Angela (voiced by Issa Rae), Stephen dives into Zuri's curls showcasing the love and patience it takes to care for Black hair.
Hair Love continues to be a vital part of our cultural conversation. Shortly after the Christmas holiday, Barbers Hill High School senior DeAndre Arnold was told he would not be allowed to return to school or walk at graduation unless he cuts his dreadlocks. Arnold is an A-student who has worn locks for years. Yet, despite the national outrage, Barbers Hill High School refuses to budge on their discriminatory policy, saying only, “the district would not be commenting further on the matter.” The teen would film himself in Hair Love's orbit as Cherry, along with producers Gabrielle Union-Wade and Dwyane Wade, invited Arnold and his mother to the Oscars as their special guests.
Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Toliver chatted with VIBE about the magic of Hair Love and their journey to the Academy Awards.
VIBE: Let's start at the very beginning. When did you first become aware of your hair?
Matthew Cherry: That's a good question. I'll probably say more in high school. I went to this private high school up in the suburbs of Chicago, and it wasn't very diverse. I was having to go to different barbers and have different conversations as it related to my hair. I think that was the first time I was like, "Oh wow, this is a totally different situation." I was aware of my mother and sister's hair much earlier. My mom worked a corporate job, so she always had her hair a certain way. My sister was an athlete like me, and I witnessed her hair journey as it related to sports.
Karen Toliver: For me, it was very early, elementary school. I grew up in Dallas. I went to a private school where I was the only Black kid. I recently saw the episode "Hair Day" from Black-ish, we all have that experience. It's going to the salon, spending the whole day, or having your mom press and burn the back of your neck—all those things that we do. I started wearing my hair natural when I went to New York in college. That was really a liberating experience. Coming from Texas and going to Brooklyn for the first time, it was so eye-opening and empowering. I never turned back.
Matthew, why were you so adamant about bringing Hair Love to life and starting the viral Kickstarter campaign?
Matthew: In 2016, I had come across this cool computer-generated image of a Black dad working at his computer, with his daughter sitting right in his lap. It was so cute. The daughter had these two puffs. I was like, "Wow, I've never really seen this in animation before." I made a half-hearted effort to try to get the movie made. I reached out to artists, but for whatever reason, nobody responded, I forgot about it.
Two years later, when I kept seeing these videos of dads doing their daughter's hair, I thought, "Okay, there's clearly something here. I'm seeing this again for a reason. The time is now." Vashti [Harrison] had done a drawing of a friend of mine for her birthday. I hadn't really seen Black hair being drawn in that way. Luckily, this was right before she blew up, so it worked out timing-wise. When we got the book deal with Penguin Random House, they'd already been tracking her for her first book, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, so she actually ended up illustrating the Hair Love book too.
Karen, I know that you were involved with Hair Love on a personal level before Sony got involved. What bolstered your decision to attach yourself to this project?
Karen: I knew our producing partner, Monica [Young] socially. When Monica and Matthew were starting the Kickstarter, they were reaching out to people they knew in animation, and they'd already gotten Peter Ramsey and Frank Abney involved. They asked me about helping out. I was an executive at Fox at the time. I said, "Listen, I've got a day job, but I love what this is about." I've been in animation for two decades but had never seen anything about a Black family in the way that Matthew was talking about it. I wanted to support them, but I didn't think I was going to be able to be the producer.
Luckily, it was at a time where I was leaving Fox and going to Sony, so I was able to put it as a producer project. I was able to come into Sony knowing that this was going to be a little hobby, a nights and weekends thing. Luckily, Sony really believed in it and understood. Working on Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, they knew how important diversity and representation is, so they just supported it as almost a super sponsor.
Now that the film has debuted and the book is out, we've all seen these gorgeous images of little Black girls across the globe watching the movie and reading the book. What have these images meant to the both of you?
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Karen: It's so emotional and so wonderful. I could have never imagined this response. Somebody even recreated the whole short in live-action, shot for shot. There's something about animation that you can place yourself in it. It's really a gift.
Matthew: It goes back to what we wrote in the Kickstarter campaign. We wanted to create something that people would see themselves in while changing the conversation around natural hair. It's just crazy how much more has happened, like that news with Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley coming out and announcing that she is dealing with alopecia.
Then there's the whole conversation around The CROWN Act that prohibits discrimination based on hairstyle and hair texture. For us, being able to help to normalize that conversation and do something that shows a young girl who is proud of her hair, and her young millennial dad who has tattoos and is wearing long locks—it's been really cool.
There is so much collaboration in Hair Love. One of your main partners was Dove; how did they come on board for the project?
Matthew: They were involved very early on. I think they reached out the first week of the Kickstarter before we even knew we were going to hit our goal. They just basically asked how they could support us, and they gave us a little money to help us get over the hump. Dove has been supportive throughout this process, and they are one of the big backers of The CROWN Act. They were just like, we see what you guys are doing, and we really support the idea.
Have there been discussions about extending the Hair Love universe into television or a feature-length film?
Karen: Right now, we're just enjoying the celebration, but we love those characters. There's been a lot of thought getting to this moment. So yeah, we're talking about it and trying to see what makes sense.
Matthew, back in 2012, you said you wanted to be an Oscar-nominated director, and now that has come to fruition. Hair Love has been nominated for Best Animated Short at the 2020 Academy Awards. How does that feel?
Speak it into existence! @MatthewACherry 🗣🗣🗣 #MoreThanAnAthlete pic.twitter.com/vRVjqBw8iv
— UNINTERRUPTED (@uninterrupted) January 13, 2020
Matthew: When I tweeted that in 2012, it was a darker time. I'd done my first feature, and I had hoped that the world would open up for me, and agents would reach out, and job opportunities would come, and I could break into TV. None of that happened. It was just something I wanted to put out there to keep me motivated and keep my eye on the prize, but for it to happen is just unreal. I love that the project is getting that much more shine.
Therefore, The CROWN Act will get much more shine, and young Black girls will be able to have more confidence moving forward. This has been such an amazing project to be a part of. Hopefully, more doors will open up, and it will be a little easier to get projects with diverse characters made. But win or lose, we're good, we've already won.
The 92nd Academy Awards will air on ABC February 9 at 8 pm EST. Learn more about The CROWN Act here.
Former NFL MVP Cam Newton has a reputation as one of the most fashion-forward athletes in the world. And now, he's placing his stamp on a new travel accessory.
In early 2019, Newton joined forces with the startup premium accessories company Vinta as a creative partner, and the two have launched Newton's first premium backpack, the TYPE-II C1N, available for pre-order at vinta.co. The bag, according to a press release, is "specifically created for style-conscious travelers and busy city living."
“I’m excited to be working with Vinta and putting my first bag out into the world. It’s called the TYPE-II C1N, and it’s designed for a person like me, with a constant schedule, who doesn’t stop and wants a fashionable, high-quality bag that’s functional for everyday life,” Newton said in a statement. “It’s customizable, stylish, and every feature has been so well thought out and designed. That’s what Vinta embodies: travel made easy. I know they’ve done it for me, and I know they’re going to do it for everyone who buys one.”
The TYPE-II C1N comes in two colors – sand and berry – and is made of a weatherproof coated twill exterior, with features such as a modular leather field pack and dopp kit, space for a 15” laptop, an elevated satin interior, internal mesh pockets, and flat lay panels.
This isn't Newton's first foray into fashion and accessories. Along with turning heads with his outrageous outfits at game days and press conferences, earlier in his career, he launched a menswear line with the Southern department store Belk.
Along with the motivation of Q4, October has brought with it the crisp chill in the air many have long been waiting for. Yes, the fall equinox signaled that the heat of summer is over, but what it really means is that new wardrobes can flourish. And oftentimes, a change of the outer self comes with a significant change in the inner.
To celebrate this spirit of all-around change, T.J. Maxx’s The Maxx You Project partnered with singer Lance Bass, stylist/model/author Africa Miranda and body-positive model/wellness entrepreneur Danika Brysha for The Changing Room. Miranda and Brysha will spend hour-long sessions with 98 contest winners across the U.S. and provide them with styling and life coach sessions that will help them embrace their individuality and myriad life changes. These personalized in-store experiences, which officially kicked off on Sept. 19, will travel to T.J. Maxx’s in seven cities—Chicago, Nashville, Houston, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Minneapolis.
“As your life changes, there are literally new clothes that you need to wear to walk into new rooms,” Miranda says. “To be able to now partner with them for The Maxx You Project and to go on this tour to help women tell a new story in their lives through clothing, for me, is really special. Really helping women look at their lives, look at the clothing that they currently have and really ask themselves, what is this new space that I'm walking into? What's the new story that I want to tell?”
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It’s almost time for us to hit the road for the @tjmaxx in-store Changing Room experience. We’re going from city to city, to help you embrace big life changes. Enter for a chance to win an exclusive style session with @africamiranda and a personalized life coach session with yours truly. Applications close on Friday 9/13 so enter today at maxxyouproject.com. We’ll be stopping in Chicago, Nashville, Houston, Denver, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Minneapolis. I would love to see you there! . . #ad #maxxyouproject
Essentially, shopping for the new phases in our lives can not only be a fun activity but one that functions as an act of self-care if done right. Buying new things (and ridding yourself of old ones that no longer serve you) parallel the act of recalibrating our minds to be in line with new goals.
“For me and my personal journey, I struggled a lot with food and self-worth. I lived in my parents' garage for a couple of years, was six figures in debt as I tried to build a business, and I changed really small habits. Most of it is mindset. It's affirmations, it's gratitude, it's just changing how I approach the world. And I slowly but surely rebuilt this life of my dreams.”
Here, Miranda and Brysha give a five tip sample of how to do just that as you rebuild your sartorial story for fall.
--Africa Miranda: Shopping For Your Story
Tip 1: Dressing for Real Days
A lot of people have clothes for their dream day, but they don't have clothes for their actual day. That used to be my issue. I would tell people if you call me to get on a private jet, I had an outfit. [It’s getting] women to understand, what's your actual lifestyle? Then within that, getting the staples and things that they need, but in an elevated way. We talk about a trench or a little back dress, but do you just need a basic simple one or can you get something in an unexpected print or texture? Different things that elevate the experience for yourself, and getting women to look at what they need but also push the envelope within their lifestyle and still have things that when you put it on your body, you're like, okay, I'm creating a moment. Versus just putting on clothes. Women are constantly changing. We're going from daughters to mothers to getting married to getting divorced to new jobs. We're constantly having all of these experiences and you should have the clothing that helps you do that.
Tip 2: How Not to Hoard 101
This is the thing about hoarding — a lot of it is getting to the root of why you're holding onto clothing. I used to do that for a long time and what I realized was that I felt like I needed to look into an overflowing closet because that meant that I was successful. But all it meant was that I had things that didn't necessarily fit or were even great quality. Or there were things that maybe I had splurged on, but then I felt guilty about it so I didn't wear it. I want women to walk away with clothing that they love, not that they might love a year from now if they fit. No, because all you're doing then is every time you put it on, then it's almost like you're telling yourself, I'm doing something wrong. Every time you put on some clothes, you should feel that you're doing something right. I don't care if it costs $6 or would cost $600, I have to love it, so that way every time I put it on, I know it serves a purpose. I know I feel good in it. Then it has a home in my closet, and then when it no longer makes me feel that way, then it's time to put it back out into the universe.
Tip 3: Shop With A Vision
I do think you need to have some sort of plan or guide in place, whether you've worked on a vision board or a style board. I don't like to go grocery shopping without a list. I don't like to go shopping for the sake of, "let me just go buy stuff." Because I think when you do that, you're just buying things without a purpose and then there's no connection in your wardrobe, right. There's no clear story. There's a chapter here, a photo [there]. The idea is to create a full story for yourself so that you know that these pieces work together.
Danika Brysha: Life Change Begins In The Mind
Tip 4: Make Change Your Friend
As women, we're overwhelmed. And oftentimes, what we do is try and change things, then we fail because we over-commit, and life is really busy, and then we feel shameful, and it's this vicious cycle. We already are hard enough on ourselves as it is. So I love that the Maxx You project is all about embracing change. We're always changing. We're always innovating and giving ourselves permission for those waves of life because they're going to happen anyway.
Tip 5: Actively Work Backwards Towards Your Goals
One of the things that I've been working with the women on is to choose two words that you want to embrace, right? Oftentimes when we go towards change or we go towards our goals, it's because we think that it will make us feel a certain way when we achieve that. We think of a fancy sports car. Why do I want that? It's because I want to feel important, successful, whatever. So if you actually work that backward and you decide, I want to feel important and successful, you can work backward and find other ways to achieve those feelings that aren't necessarily getting the fancy sports car.
So what we can do is take those words and back up five years. Because what happens is if we find that in our life now, then it exponentially comes more into our life. A lot of times people are like, “we'll all be happy when…” You get happy first, and then the thing happens. We have a lot of it backward. So we're going to create a two minute morning routine because what I find is that people have dreams and goals and you have all these things you want to do, but we don't create an action plan. If there's no action plan or accountability, then nothing happens. So we take the two words and every single day, you're going to pick one-minute tasks for each that you could do every day that could bring you closer to those words that day.