92nd Oscars Backstage Interview Transcript: SHORT FILM (ANIMATED)

SPEECH BY: Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver


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Q. Hi. Congratulations. The first question I want to ask is when you talk about the Oscars, particularly black stories and how they are honored, there is a huge swathe of films and honorees that have told stories about, you know, slavery and segregation and modern-day forms of black trauma. And that's no discredits to those stories because those stories are really important. But I would love for you guys to talk about what it means to you to be standing here as Oscar winners with a story that is so positively about black family and particularly black fatherhood. I'm a such fan of the film.
A. (Matthew A. Cherry) Yeah you know, for us, you know, this was kind of an opportunity, I think, to put a little bit of positivity in animation. You know, back when we did the Kickstarter campaign back in 2017, there wasn't a lot of representation in animation. And when I was coming across a lot of these viral videos of dads doing their daughter's hair, they were just so inherently joyful. Our biggest challenge was just to maintain that joy that made people gravitate towards those videos in the first place. So to be here and doing something like this with black hair and black families, it's just, it's literally a dream. And I never would have thought in a million years we would win an Oscar for something like this. It's crazy.
A. (Karen Rupert Toliver) Yeah, and we hope that the success of this really just shows that those positive images are things that people want to see, and you can have the variety of imagery, you can do those stories that are more dramatic or sort of more sad. But the joyous ones are just as possible and powerful and possible.

Q. Congratulations to you, Matthew, Karen, on this honor. There is a unique father/daughter relationship presented here in
HAIR LOVE. I wanted to know is this father in any way identifying himself with identifying how to approach the beautiful complexity of his daughter's hair? And also, what does this film say about identity in the broader scheme of what it means to be black today?
A. (Matthew A. Cherry) could you repeat that first part? I'm sorry. I didn't follow.

Q. The first part, is there is a unique father/daughter relationship here? Is the father in any way identifying himself through identifying on how to approach doing his daughter's hair?
A. (Matthew A. Cherry) Um, yeah, I mean, you know, I think the thing about HAIR LOVE is that it really was born out of wanting to kind of flip those gender norms that we normally see. You know, it's so crazy because oftentimes fathers, when they do basic tasks in the household, it's like, oh, my God, look at fathers, like, being dads, you know what I mean? For us, we wanted to help normalize it. And then in terms of -- you maybe can answer the second question.
A. (Karen Rupert Toliver) About just representation in general? Yeah, I think the thing for us is that black hair is very close and personal to us, and so by policing black hair it's like policing ourselves. So freeing back hair means freeing ourselves, and we really want to get stories out that allows us to express ourselves and make it okay to walk the streets however we look with our hair.

Q. Hi. Congratulations, Matthew and Karen. We are so excited for you all. We knew this would happen. It's like we were thrilled for you. So I would like to know how the Crown Act got on your radar, because this is such a beautiful short film to create, but to make it also have a message that can actually make change in the country I think is amazing. So tell us about that.
A. (Matthew A. Cherry) You know, for us, again, representation and animation was really important to us. And the Crown Act was a real-life component to the message that we were trying to get across with the short film. You know, Senator Holly J. Mitchell, who was a Senator here in California, she authored the bill. And Dove actually backed our Kickstarter campaign. We have a special thanks to them in the credits. And they are a big sponsor of the petition to try to help get it in different states.
So for us, you know, when you see a story like DeAndre Arnold's, the young gentleman that was the wrestler that had to cut his locks before the match, when something like this comes about where you can actually have the potential to create a real change and stop these stories from happening, you know, it was our pleasure to get a part of it. And, you know, I'm so glad that we were able to actually shout that out on the stage because I think it's important, and I think if that gets passed, then we won't have these same stories. You know, it will be a better life for our kids.

Q. Good evening. Congratulations, Matthew and Karen. Karen, I follow you on social media. I just Facebooked you. I was like, hey, I'm in the media room. I'm so excited for you. Karen, this question is for you. Talk with me a little bit about when you realized that our hair, black hair, was so political, and how did you reconcile that? How did you manage existing and mainstream spaces when your hair was or your hair style was challenged?
A. (Karen Rupert Toliver) You know, it's interesting. I have a real connection to DeAndre's story because I'm from Texas. So growing up all my life, it's like, it never even occurred to me that I would have the freedom to wear my hair any kind of way, which is we were policing ourselves at that point. You know, and it wasn't until I actually left and left the state and went to college in New York and really saw that there was more self-expression, which gave me personal courage to start to wear my hair natural. And I'm blessed to be in the entertainment industry, which there is less policing, you know, but it still is in a corporate environment, you see that. And so when we see these stories like the wrestler or DeAndre, you realize that we can use the media to actually kind of empower others and just give voice to that. So hopefully we can make social change.

Q. Hi, Matthew and Karen. Congratulations. I'm so excited for you guys. I was screaming in the press room when they called your name. So what HAIR LOVE was very impactful for me is these little black girls got to see themselves in this film. So I want you -- I want to give you space to tell the little black girls and little black boys who want to be in animation, who want to do animation, what do you have to say to them?
A. (Matthew A. Cherry) You know, this film was for you. You know, all throughout the years, you know, there hasn't been characters in the -- specifically in animation that look like you. This film was made for you to see yourself. You know, we have a book that is out in stores as well, and I think the combination of the short and the book has really just been great. We've been seeing the real-life change and the impact, you know, kids reading the book in class, you know, seeing the book in Target and saying, that's me. So it just means the world. And there is space for you in animation, and hopefully this win will help to propel the next generation of diverse people and people of color into that world.
A. (Karen Rupert Toliver) I'll just hop on to say Matthew is a storyteller. He came from live action. He didn't have an animation background, but he had a story to tell, and that is what animation is like any other medium is just a place to tell a story. So for those little girls or boys, if they have a story to tell, come on. I'm ready for you.

Q. Congratulations on your win. Could you just speak a little bit about why you chose the short film format to convey such a powerful message?
A. (Matthew A. Cherry) You know, for me animation obviously takes a long time to get a film made, oftentimes four or five years. For me, I'm fairly impatient. And I wanted to do something where we were able to get a story out there a little sooner into the world. It felt urgent, because even back in 2017, every week there was a new story, you know, a black person not being able to wear their hair at work, a young person not being able to wear their hair in school. So it just felt like this was the perfect medium so that it could be able to be consumed in places like schools. It could be online so that anybody could enjoy it. And we were really lucky to have that opportunity to be in theaters in front of ANGRY BIRDS 2. So yeah.

Q. Congratulations.
A. (Matthew A. Cherry) thank you, guys.


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