LOS ANGELES (CBS Chicago/CBS News) — “Hair Love” took home an Oscar on Sunday night for best animated short.
Former NFL player and Chicago native Matthew A. Cherry, who is behind the touching short film, said “Hair Love” was done “because we wanted to see more representation in animation, we wanted to normalize black hair.”
“There is a very important issue that’s out there – it’s the CROWN Act. And if we can help to get this passed in all 50 states it will help stories like DeAndre Arnold’s,” Cherry said as he accepted his award.
The CROWN Act is a law that bans discrimination based on hairstyles associated with race. So far, only New York, New Jersey and California have signed it into law.
Arnold, a senior at a Texas high school, was suspended and told he could not walk at his graduation in the spring unless he cuts his dreadlocks. After his case gained widespread attention, the “Hair Love” team invited Arnold to the Oscars as their special guest.
“We have a firm belief that representation matters deeply. Especially in cartoons,” said the film’s producer Karen Rupert Toliver as she accepted the award. “In cartoons that’s when we first see our movies, that’s how we shape our lives and how we see ourselves.”
Cherry is a native of the Northwest Side of Chicago and attended Loyola Academy in Wilmette. He was a wide receiver in the NFL for the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars and Carolina Panthers before retiring in 2007.
It’s not his first foray into movie making. Cherry has been working steadily in Hollywood for almost two decades, first as a production assistant, then moving on to working as a director of music videos, short films, and long form features including “The Last Fall” and “9 Rides” and was an executive producer on Spike Lee’s “BlacKKKlansman.”
The win makes Cherry just the second professional athlete to win an Oscar. Two years ago, Kobe Bryant won the same award for “Dear Basketball.”
Cherry paid tribute to the late NBA champion, who died alongside eight others in a helicopter crash in California two weeks ago.
“This award is dedicated to Kobe Bryant, may we all have a second act as great as his was,” Cherry said.
Long-time supporters of the animated short took to Twitter to share their congratulations.
“Shaking crying grateful,” actress Gabrielle Union wrote. “Representation realllly matters!!!!!”
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) February 10, 2020
“Pass. The. Crown. Act. #HairLove,” tweeted rapper Common.
— COMMON (@common) February 10, 2020
Cherry’s book “Hair Love” is also based on the story.
CBS News’ Chevaz Clarke contributed to this report.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. CBS News contributed to this report.)