The 92nd Academy Award nominations were disappointing to many due to the limited nominations for people of color in front of and behind the camera. However, director Matthew A.Cherry and producer Karen Rupert Toliver did make the cut. The African-American filmmakers are up for Best Animated Short for “Hair Love,” which tells the story of a Black father doing his daughter’s hair for the first time (watch it above). And the nomination is historic in more ways than one.
This marks the first Oscar nomination for both Cherry and Toliver. Cherry, a former NFL athlete-turned-film and television director, follows former NBA champion Kobe Bryant as only the second professional athlete to earn an Oscar nomination. Coincidentally enough, Bryant took home the Oscar in this very category a couple of years ago for “Dear Basketball” (2017), which also made him the first Black person from any professional background to be nominated for or win this award. Cherry and Rupert Toliver are the second and third, and Rupert Toliver is the first Black woman to be nominated in this category.
The academy has made great strides over the last two decades in nominating more African-Americans as producers, directors, actors and writers — from Jordan Peele to Steve McQueen to Viola Davis, just to name a few. So while this year’s nominations slate seems like a step back in many ways, this nomination is a small step for the academy in branching out to a wider variety of fields when recognizing Black creativity.
Besides Bryant for “Dear Basketball” and Cherry for “Hair Love,” the only other Black filmmaker to be nominated for animation in the history of the Oscars is director Peter Ramsey, who just last year became the first to win Best Animated Feature for “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” Ramsey is actually an executive producer of “Hair Love” too; like “Spider-Verse” it comes from Sony Pictures Animation.
It’s also worth noting that all three films feature stories about the contemporary African-American experience rooted in positivity, self-acceptance and love as opposed to the portrayals that the academy has often bestowed nominations and wins to over the years. The Oscars more typically rewards period movies about Black oppression like “The Help,” “12 Years a Slave,” “Green Book” and currently “Harriet.”
My hope is that films like “Hair Love,” “Dear Basketball” and “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” will continue to open doors for Black directors in animation, but also lead the academy to expand their horizons in general when recognizing stories by people of color.
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