Two years ago, Kobe Bryant took the stage at the Academy Awards to accept, alongside Glen Keane, the Best Animated Short Film award for Dear Basketball. The Oscar win for his personal project came less than a year after the NBA great had retired from the sport.
Tonight, another former professional athlete who segued to an entertainment career, former NFL player Matthew A. Cherry, accepted the Best Animated Short Film Oscar for a personal project, Hair Love. In his speech, Cherry dedicated the award to Bryant, who died tragically two weeks ago.
“This award is dedicated to Kobe Bryant,” said Cherry who also paid tribute to Bryant at pre-Oscar events. “May we all have a second act as great as his was.”
Hair Love, voiced by Issa Rae, follows an African-American father’s first attempt to do his daughter’s hair. It stems from Cherry’s desire to promote hair love among young people of color. Like Cherry’s features 9 Rides and The Last Fall, Hair Love originated with a Kickstarter campaign in 2017.
“Hair Love was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation. We wanted to normalize black hair,” the film’s writer, co-director and producer Cherry said tonight.
Added Hair Love producer Karen Rupert Toliver, who accepted the award with Cherry, “It was a labor of love, and it was because we have a firm belief that representation matters deeply. Especially in cartoons, because in cartoons that’s when we first see our movies and it’s how we shape our lives and think about how we see the world.”
During his speech, Cherry acknowledged DeAndre Arnold, who was his guest at the Oscars. The senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, Texas, made national headlines a couple of weeks ago when he was told by school officials that he wouldn’t be able to walk at his graduation if he didn’t cut his dreadlocks. During a recent appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Arnold explained that he had refused to cut his hair out of appreciation for his Trinidadian ancestry.
Evoking Arnold, Cherry used his speech to rally support for The Crown Act. Last summer, California became the first state to ban discrimination against black students and employees over their natural hairstyles.
“There’s a very important issue that’s out there; it’s the Crown Act,” Cherry said. “And if we can help to get this passed in all 50 states, it will help stories like DeAndre Arnold’s, who’s our special guest tonight, stop to happen.” (You can watch the full speech above.)
Following the Oscar win, Cherry retweeted a 2016 tweet he had posted when he was trying to find collaborators to help him get the “Oscar worthy short film” Hair Love made. It quickly went viral.
Cherry and Hair Love‘s win got a big reaction on Twitter, with Ava DuVernay among those who sent congratulations.
Since distributor Sony Pictures Animation released Hair Love on YouTube in December, the short has amassed more than 15.3 million views. Here it is: