Matthew A. Cherry, a former wide receiver, is up for an Oscar at the 92nd Academy Awards

By Jason Duaine Hahn
February 07, 2020 02:57 PM
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Just like NBA legend Kobe Bryant did with his animated short Dear Basketball, a former football player channeled his artistic side to create a touching film that is now a favorite to win an Academy Award.

Matthew A. Cherry is the writer and co-director of Hair Love, a short animated film about a young black girl who goes to her father for help when she has trouble styling her hair. As the girl soon finds out, her father isn’t quite sure what to do with her hair either, but they work together to find a solution.

“I liked the idea of something that was centered around a black family, because so often you don’t see that in animation,” Cherry, 38, recently told the Los Angeles Times.

“It felt like a great opportunity to really shine the spotlight on black fathers, because so often in mainstream media they just get a bad rap,” he continued. “If you watch movies and TV, you would think they don’t exist, but studies have actually shown that they’re among the most involved groups in their kids’ lives.”

The film is also co-produced by former Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade and his wife, actress Gabrielle Union.

Matthew A. Cherry
| Credit: Mark Von Holden/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

Cherry is following in the footsteps of Bryant, who was nominated in 2018 for Dear Basketball.

“I feel better than winning the championship,” Bryant told reporters following his victory at the time. “Growing up as a kid, I dreamt of winning championships and worked really hard. But then to have something like this come out of left field. I heard a lot of people tell me, ‘What are you going to do when you retire?’ I want to be a writer and a storyteller. I got a lot of, ‘That’s cute.’ I got that a lot. To be here right now and have a sense of validation, this is crazy.”

When Cherry — who played on the Jacksonville Jaguars, Baltimore Ravens, and several other teams during his time in the NFL — was nominated for the Oscar, Bryant sent him a congratulatory tweet.

“Let’s go!!” wrote Bryant.

Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others would die in a helicopter crash about two weeks later. He was 41.

“It’s just crazy. I just feel that much more like I have to represent,” Cherry recently told CBS News following the tragedy.

“We have to keep his memory alive,” he added. “I was so excited to see what he was going to do with his second act with his career. First project, he gets an Oscar, and I knew he was going to do more projects.”

Matthew A. Cherry
| Credit: Rob Latour/Shutterstock

Hair Love is nominated for the Short Film (Animated) category at the 2020 Academy Awards, which will air this Sunday on ABC.

Along with Cherry and producer Karen Rupert Toliver, Wade and Union will also attend the ceremony in Los Angeles.

But they will also have a special guest — DeAndre Arnold, a black teenager in Texas who claimed he was suspended and told that he would not be able to walk in his high school graduation ceremony unless he cut his dreadlocks.

“It’s crazy. I never thought that people like D. Wade and Gabrielle Union would be on my side,” Arnold told CBS This Morning after receiving the news with his mother. “The film is about hair love and me and my hair kinda grew up together in a way. It’s like we’re best friends.”

“It really just means so much that we get an invite like this,” he added. “It means the world to us.”