Hair Love is truly a modern-day creator’s dream come true. The animated film—written, directed, and produced by Matthew A. Cherry—went from being a Kickstarter funded project in 2017 to a children’s book and a 2020 Oscar-nominated short film. The story about an African American father learning how to do his daughter’s hair is full of heart and available for fans to watch online.
Hair Love is a quick watch that clocks in just under seven minutes, but it tells the intricate tale of Black girlhood, our relationship with our hair, family, loss, and resilience. The clip starts with an adorable little girl named Zuri who is getting ready for her day. She takes off her bonnet and reveals her crowing glory of wonderfully thick hair.
Zuri scrolls through a few instructional videos on her mom’s vlog page with several styles before settling on specific style. She thinks back to her mom doing the same style on her hair before trying to follow the video’s step-by-step instructions. Of course, the task of creating several twisted buns doesn’t go over so well.
It’s a cool scene that conveys the incredible versatility of Black hair and the struggles that many young girls faced while trying to experiment with styling their own hair. The only difference is girls like me didn’t have YouTube videos to rely on back in the ‘90s.
Sony Pictures Animation/YouTube
Zuri’s dad comes in to see the impending disaster before deciding to put things into his own hands. Of course, his confidence quickly gets squashed when he sees a dresser full of hair products and combs and the mountain of hair on his daughter’s head. He tries to take the easy way out but the little girl is not having it. As he reaches to make the first part in her hair and de-tangle a small section, he envisions himself in a battle with a giant tower of hair.
He thinks he has it tamed with a few hair ties but it breaks loose and wins the fight. He tries the hat again but his daughter starts to cry and run away. He eventually sees the end of a video with Zuri and her mom. The mom encourages the listener to try hard and do it with a little love. He starts the video over and follows every single step, finally perfecting the desired style before they visit her mom in a hospital.
The ending is a tearjerker where the mom, who has lost her hair, gains a boost of confidence about showing her uncovered head to her family before they embrace. Hair Love is such an interesting short because 1) Zuri’s mom is the only person who speaks (voiced by Issa Rae) and 2) so many topics are covered in a limited time span.
Sony Pictures Animation
For example, Zuri’s mom felt a major loss not only as she deals with an undisclosed diagnosis but also loses her hair. A Black woman’s hair is often a major part of her identity and self-expression that can be styled in so many ways—cornrows, Bantu knots, twists, puffs, sew-ins, Afros, and braids to name a few.
But, for this mom, it was also a way to connect with others and educate them via her videos. A part of her love language and connection with her daughter was the time she spent styling her hair, which she can’t do anymore because of her illness. Losing her hair means losing a part of herself as well as an activity that makes her heart soar. But, Zuri’s photo of her mom is a reminder that this woman is still amazing and bald is beautiful too.
Hair Love also showed a tender relationship between a dad and his daughter. He’s forced to step outside of his comfort zone and do something he’s relied on her mother to always do—hair care. Zuri’s dad realized how much a Black girl’s hair means in terms of her self-esteem and gained a new appreciation for the time and effort it takes to style kinky and curly hair.
But even for viewers who aren’t Black, Hair Love is a heartfelt story about love and stepping outside of your comfort zone, even when it’s scary. It’s certainly watching over and over again to feel all the loving feels.
Header Image: Sony Pictures Animation