Oscar-nominated short film ‘Hair Love’ is a breath of fresh air among the largely white, male and cisgender nominees – Screen Shot
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Oscar-nominated short film ‘Hair Love’ is a breath of fresh air among the largely white, male and cisgender nominees

By Marcia Veiga


Jan 30, 2020

The reveal of this year’s Oscar nominations has caused yet another uproar. With the female exclusion of nominees—of both actresses and directors—on its forefront, many took to Twitter for reconciliation attempts and news outlets probed sexism, as well as outdated traditions, as their themes for the week. One short animation not only gained momentum but also landed a well-deserved nomination for Best Animated Short Film. Written, produced and directed by Matthew A. Cherry, Hair Love highlights a shifting focus of black narratives.

The enthralling six-and-a-half-minute animation follows the journey of an African American girl—trying to upkeep her sensational views of beauty by shadowing a hair tutorial, with a little help from her supportive father. It’s crucial to mention that throughout the film, the girl, father or cat were not given any speaking opportunities, but the only lines we hear are, “Just took a little bit of work and a whole lot of love,” from the Youtube vlogger—later revealed as the young girl’s mother, voiced by Issa Rae, who also expressed her thoughts about the recent Oscar nominations. “Congratulations to all these men,” were her choice of words.

In 2017, Cherry turned his gaze to fundraising on Kickstarter. Initially, the goal was to raise $75,000 for the short animation, however it ended up raining over $300,000.  According to Kickstarter, no other short film project has ever beaten that. I soon discovered that the inspiration behind Zuri’s father Stephen was Cherry himself. 

As the buzz surrounding the moving picture began to grow, Cherry stated that he “wanted to see a young black family in the animated world,” so he decided to create the cartoon himself. From my personal standpoint, that just validates the crucial necessity of this project and why Cherry was the perfect candidate for the job. Hair has and will always remain an integral feature of black history, especially for black women as it dates back to early African civilisations of tribe recognition to hair braiding for the creation of escape maps during slavery. Matthew A. Cherry has not only paid homage to black women’s history, but he has also watched, listened and paid tribute to another black family’s personal experiences.

The film screamed representation, and three seconds into the animation, you’re blessed with child-like drawings of a family of three black identities. Although that may seem like a small factor, that is a rarity in today’s animated film landscape. Back in 2009, Disney released their first-ever animation featuring a black female protagonist and I was exhilarated.

Fast forward 11 years, and I’m exasperated at how problematic that introduction was. Firstly, unlike what The Princess and the Frog taught young kids, not all black children were raised by single mothers. Although Tiana’s father was briefly mentioned, Disney lacked the respect to even credit the male figure in a young Black women’s life. For a few minutes into watching Hair Love, I was under the impression that the movie was pushing another single parent narrative, and while this one varied (it being a father), it’s still the same principle. Cherry proved me wrong and even granted me additional access to another storyline. The relationship of a cancer patient mourning the loss of their hair.

The all-embracing short animation deconstructs multiple black aimed stereotypes and transformed them into norms, making it the kind of content I would want future generations to grow up watching. It encompasses many storylines without having anyone speak, instead, the intricate details and act of imagery are enough. Representation is the organic fuel of growing up and due to former NFL wide receiver Matthew A. Cherry, young black girls will grow up with the normalisation of their curl-patterns and the ongoing battle of how to style it.

Having YouTube as the connecting factor evokes the argument that technology is an ever-present method of education in today’s age, and marks its essential requirement for the future black hair movement of post relaxers and parents lacking a clue. It’s something my parents and I could have used for inspiration instead of turning to outdated print magazines.

The rise and fall of the Black Travel Movement should push us to explore the world

Freedom of travel is so deeply engraved into British culture and history that the first thing many of us mourned on 24 June, 2016, the beginning of the Brexit chaos, was the pre-loss of our freedom to easily reside in other European countries. But what does freedom mean to the ethnic minorities who were never given the opportunity to live in foreign countries in the first place? Everything and nothing at the same time.

Without stating the obvious, the effects of slavery are deeply engrained in black culture. Shockingly, many black people within the UK still live undocumented or with an Indefinite Leave to Remain card, due to the high increase of fees associated with the application process for citizenship. That means many among us live in a constant state of fear or anxiety related to a sense of unsettlement. That said, this Black History Month, I witnessed the importance of travel within the black community as a cure for this trauma.

Black entrepreneurship and ownership are at an all-time high due to the social shift, media presence and music culture that celebrates blackness like never before. With money comes opportunity, and with opportunity comes travel. And with that, a new movement has emerged, called the Black Travel Movement.

What started as a trend, the Black Travel Movement has now become a community of black people that share an interest in experiencing international leisurely trips. The movement started in the US and therefore is mainly discussed within it.

A recent study conducted in the US revealed that more African Americans are able to travel, because of the increase of disposable income and the development of more black-based cultural and historical sites. This also applies to the black British community. Due to the geographic location of the US, typical travel destinations of black travellers are Caribbean countries, as well as states such as Miami, Atlanta or New Orleans. Instead, this growing movement has urged many black tourists to consider countries like Morocco, Thailand or Eastern Europe for pleasure.

We all know or have been that person who turned to travel after a minor life episode. As I’m writing this, I sit at a coffee shop in Brooklyn and I couldn’t be happier for the privilege of being documented. Many people believe in the beneficial facts of travelling, such as the opportunity to reinvent yourself or becoming mentally resilient. The urge and desire for adventure have resurfaced among black people, so much so, that there has been an increase of black solo traveller’s blogs. Instagram accounts like @blacktraveljourney, @oneikatraveller and @minoritynomad are filled with endless imagery of world attractions and selfies, but also provide their followers with important racial warnings.

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*CANCELLATION CULTURE & CALLING OUT vs. CALLING IN ON THE INTERNET* About a year ago, I posted this picture with a caption asking whether or not dressing like this amounted to cultural appropriation. I was hoping to generate a discussion about the fine, and often tenuous, line between appreciation and appropriation. However, I mistakenly referred to the garments I'm wearing as Turkish, when they are in fact Afghan. ___ My photo spread quickly throughout the Afghan Instagram community, and the judgement was swift. Before I knew it, my comments and DMs were flooded with messages from Afghan people demanding I correct the caption, which in and of itself isn't an issue. Rather, it was the abusive messages I received that gave me pause. I had people who called me stupid, indecent, and unprofessional. ___ When a lack of wifi meant I was offline for a few hours and unable to respond, some even wrote that by not immediately taking action to address the situation I was intentionally seeking to mislead my readers. ___ And, even after correcting the caption, one person in my DMs continued to harrass me for weeks, puportedly because the wording of the revised text was still not to their liking. ___ Now, as someone with a strong personality who doesn't shy away from confrontation or criticism (10 years as a classroom teacher who had to deal with insolent teenagers and helicopter parents will give you a tough skin), I wasn't particularly bothered by the fact that I had been so swiftly "cancelled". But it reminded me how easy the internet makes it to pile on and say nasty things to strangers, how easy our virtual world allows us to call out people (i.e. alert them in an effort to expose their wrongdoing to others / embarrass them) instead of call them in (i.e. educate them with humanity and empathy). ___ How do you deal with negativity online? Do you think social media/the internet make it easier to be mean to people?

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Travelling while black is a thing and unfortunately will always be a thing. When visiting predominantly white countries, the first thing black individuals are alerted and advised on by their peers is the discriminatory practices one may experience. In recent years, reported stories have highlighted the increase of attacks on black people. Although it’s vital for black people to hear about other people’s experiences, it also heightens the fear of travel for many and can prevent the much-needed growth that comes from travel. If you come from an ethnic background and live in the most Western of countries, racial discrimination becomes your norm. It just varies from place to place, from subtle commentaries to real racism. These attacks are disturbing, to say the least, and showcase the harsh reality of leisurely travelling while being black.

Despite the beneficial claims, the Black Travel Movement has quite recently come into hot water for duping their travellers with false pre-contexts. The organisation was accused of robbing travellers from a recent boat trip. With the package price ranging from $2,950 to $3,350 to spend a week on the boat itself, the question of affordability arose. Travellers were promised comfort, community, and great cost, but were given poor service, lack of nutriment, and additional trauma instead.

The reality of planning a holiday can be distressing when simply mentioning the cost. Yet, for black people, no detail cannot go unnoticed, because the harsh reality is that travelling could cost a life. Immigration has shown us the dark views of the world, but ownership has given us chance and hope.

On my third day in New York, I walked into an empty bar and started talking to a born and bred bartender from Brooklyn. As he offered to take me to the Blue Note, a legendary jazz bar, for a sold-out show, he said, “Today never comes but, tomorrow comes today,” and I felt that. The rise of the Black Travel Movement just demonstrates the lack of choice our ancestors faced, the sacrifices our parents made and the benefits we need to claim. Our parents crawled so we could run. Now, we need to travel and experience other cultures so our kids can fly.