Matthew A. Cherry Fully Deserves His Oscar Nod For Showing Us Mad 'Hair Love'

From crowd-funding a dream to Oscar nod reality, Matthew A. Cherry reminds us that celebrating Blackness is always worth it.

Culture & Entertainment

I don't know about y'all, but whenever Golden Globes and Oscar nominations come out, more times than not, I'm rolling my eyes. As a self-professed movie buff who fully enjoys the art of acting and filmmaking, sometimes I am utterly baffled by who gets a nod and, more importantly, who doesn't. But in order to stay focused on what this article is really about, I'll avoid the rabbit hole of getting into the politics of award shows and how, so very often, many artists get overlooked. Instead, let me first say "big ups" to Ms. Cynthia Erivo's Best Actress nomination for her portrayal of Harriet Tubman in Harriet, along with co-writing and performing the song "Stand Up" in the film (something that could gain her the much coveted EGOT title if she wins). That's dope. Truly. And then let me get to what made me smile, big time, as I scanned the nominations list. Matthew A. Cherry.

Just 48 hours ago, this is what he tweeted.

Then yesterday...this.

(Fun fact: Issa Rae plays Zuri's mom in the film. Ah, the circle of life!) Man, you would think this guy was my little brother (he's only 38), first cousin or somebody I sat at the lunch table with in grade school every day, if you went by how excited I was to hear the news of his Oscar nod! Honestly, I think a part of the reason is because, back when I used to run a friend of mine's business connect Twitter, I followed Matthew and engaged with him some. When it comes to pop culture and slick jabs, he's hilarious. He also comments back quite a bit. Although I'm getting ahead of myself, I've got some proof of that. A little over a month ago, my godchildren's mom wrote him about how much his now Oscar-nominated animated short film Hair Love resonated with her. And, true to fashion, he replied.

There's a Scripture that says, "By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches and honor and life." (Proverbs 22:4—NKJV) Matthew's apparent display of humility alone is enough to make this nomination make total sense. But there are a few other reasons why I am absolutely thrilled to publicly acknowledge what he and his film have accomplished.

'Hair Love' Is Beyond Sweet—and Very Necessary

If, for some reason, you've never seen Hair Love before, take out a moment to check it out right now (right here). Even though it's an animated short, I still won't give the storyline away. What I will say is that, when I first checked it out, one of the first things that came to mind was the cute animated character on Sesame Street who used to say, on repeat, "A loaf of bread…a container of milk…and a stick of butter" while running an errand for her mother. Why does that little girl still stand out to me? She had a beautiful deep chocolate skin tone. She also had a natural. And she loved herself. Fast forward to all these years later and that's what immediately came to mind when I first looked at Zuri—also chocolate, also rockin' a natural and also loving herself. Not to mention her having two parents who loved her and each other too (yes!).

Being that Hair Love is animated, it's something that all ages can immediately connect with; that was a brilliant move on Matthew's part. Yet there are so many subtle messages that I really appreciate too.

Again, without giving too much away—there's a little girl who struggles to style her hair but never once complains about its amazing texture. There's a father who adores his daughter and has a natural style too. And, there's a mom who is attentive enough to know that both dad and daughter need help—not because natural hair is "difficult" but because mastering any art form requires knowledge, technique and patience.

Hair Love reminds us all that Black love comes in so many forms and is to be recognized, honored and celebrated. By us, most of all. That is what will make this film timeless. A classic well beyond this year and its well-deserved Oscar praise.

Matthew Is a True Creative. That Deserves Nothing but Respect.

Los Angeles Sentinel

The cool thing about filmmakers, writers and directors is, oftentimes, you "see" them without even really knowing it. If you've ever watched the movie The Last Fall (Lance Gross, Nicole Beharie), Matthew both wrote and directed that (if you haven't, it's pretty good, by the way). Michelle Williams's music video "Believe in Me" and "Say Yes" (featuring Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland), he directed those too. If Chloe X Halle's song "Warrior" is your jam, he also directed that video (you can check out more of what he's accomplished, thus far, via his website). But I really started checkin' for him right when he was ready to put Hair Love out into the Universe.

I remember back when Matthew was raising money for his animated short film. It was a Kickstarter campaign a few years ago. One of the things that stood out to me in his campaign's presentation, was this oh-so-very-relevant point that he wrote for it—"This story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color. It is our hope that this project will inspire."

Inspire. That's the signature trait of a true creative; they are able to inspire others.

When someone is able to use their own creativity and ingenuity to influence and invigorate others to ultimately do the same for someone else, that's when you know, without a doubt, that they are operating in their gifts and soaring in their God-given lane.

Last I checked, Hair Love has gotten a whopping close-to-11 million views on YouTube alone. But again, if you haven't yet checked it out, devote seven minutes or so of your life. I'd be shocked if it didn't make you smile, reflect and, if like my godchildren's mom, you can personally relate, even shed a tear or two. I'd be floored if it didn't straight up inspire you.

Inspire you to either start or finish a project.

Inspire you to seek out someone who's willing to invest in your dream.

Inspire you to attempt something—even if you don't have all of the answers…or resources.

Inspire you to trust that your idea, your talent and your passion are enough.

Inspire you to take a risk, keeping in mind that, like Matthew has just proven…risks oftentimes come with great rewards.

Matthew A. Cherry, I've also noticed that you're an NFL alum. It really is amazing how paths can shift but all for the better, isn't it? Black king, please know that every member of the xoTribe salutes you today and couldn't be more proud. There is a profound respect that we have for you showin' us all some "hair love". Embrace all that is coming. You deserve it.

Now excuse me while I go and rub a little Chebe butter on my hair, pick it out and grin. Just like I'm sure little Zuri—and her parents—are doing right at this very moment. In Matthew's honor.

Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:

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Feature image by Kickstarter

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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