Matthew A. Cherry on 'Hair Love,' Blue Ivy Carter and Representation in Animation (Exclusive)

The Oscar-winning director opens up to ET about the importance of kids seeing themselves onscreen.

Following his Oscar win for the groundbreaking animated short film Hair Love, filmmaker Matthew A. Cherry is continuing to push representation forward within the genre and expand the Hair Love universe with a new audiobook narrated by Blue Ivy Carter and an upcoming HBO Max animated series.

Telling the story of Stephen and his 7-year-old daughter, Zuri, as they attempt to style her thick, natural hair, Hair Love not only countered stereotypes about Black fathers but also served as a much needed example of onscreen representation of Black hair. 

And while the story was a very specific slice of Black life, from Zuri wearing a hair bonnet to the hair products on the dresser, it had and still has universal appeal. “Our thing was, you know, the more specific we got, the more universal we got,” Cherry tells ET's Melicia Johnson of the film, which not only invites people from other cultures in to share in this experience but also serves as an example of unconditional love that anyone can relate to.  

The short film, which premiered in theaters in front of The Angry Birds 2, was also a rare story starring characters of color. But when considering earlier feature animated films, like Coco, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Moana, as well as 2020’s Soul and the upcoming revival of The Proud Family series, Cherry says there are “so many strides being made in this medium,” which makes him even more excited about expanding Hair Love into a series. 

“Animation is especially important,” Cherry continues, explaining that when “parents take their kids to see these movies and if you only see a certain type of character being in this lead role and being a complex individual and having these relationships, it makes you wonder how come people that don't look like me get to have those journeys and look like this.” 

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Called Young Love, the 12-episode series will expand upon the characters introduced in the short film with Cherry serving as showrunner alongside longtime animation creative Carl Jones (The Boondocks, Black Dynamite). “I am beyond excited to continue telling the story of Stephen, Angela and Zuri and further explore the family dynamics of a young Black millennial family we established in our short film,” Cherry said in June 2020, when it was first announced. 

When asked where the series stands now, Cherry reveals they are still in the writers’ room. “We probably have another month to go,” he says, adding that the process so far has been great. “Like, hearing these characters talk, you know. We really hope to have some cool casting announcements happening soon.” 

One of those casting announcements people are hopeful for is Carter as Zuri, especially since she narrated the audio version of the story (which is now available on Audible). “[We] definitely thought about it,” Cherry says, adding that nothing has been confirmed. 

However, Cherry does explain why she was the perfect choice for the audiobook. “Just being aware of all the flack that, you know, Beyoncé and JAY-Z got for styling her hair natural when she was a kid… it just seemed like it made perfect sense at the time,” he recalls. 

Of course, it didn’t hurt that Cherry previously directed the music video for Michelle Williams’ song, “Say Yes,” which featured Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland. “I had the pleasure of meeting them,” he says, adding that once he thought of them for the project, “I reached out and, you know, to our surprise they were down.” 

When it comes to what’s next, there’s nothing specific to announce just yet. Right now, he’s “just really taking advantage of the moment,” Cherry says, teasing that there may be “new things coming in both animation and live action, and both TV and film.”