Images courtesy of "Hair Love" character designer, Vashti Harrison (@VashtiHarrison)

Archived: NFL Player-Turned-Filmmaker Celebrates Natural Hair

A pro football player who switched careers, swapping his cleats for cameras, is focusing his next film project on a subtle slice of life many can relate to the relationship between an African American father, his young daughter and her hair.

Matthew A. Cherry, a wide receiver who played with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens, decided to retire from the NFL 10 years ago at the age of 25 to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.

The Chicago native moved to Los Angeles, and after working as a production assistant on TV commercials and assisting with music videos, he made a name for himself in the Black entertainment community and went onto direct music videos for artists including Michelle Williams, Lalah Hathaway and Snoop Dogg.

Cherry soon ventured into filmmaking. His first feature film, “The Last Fall,” starring Lance Gross, Nicole Beharie, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Keith David, Harry Lennix and Darrin Dewitt Henson, made its television premiere on BET in December 2012. Cherry also released a short film in 2016,“Forward,” which premiered on Ebony.com.

Cherry’s latest project, “Hair Love,” is a five-minute animated short set to debut in March 2018. It is the story of an African American father, Stephen, and his relationship his daughter Zuri and her hair.

Stephen has long locks himself, but he is used to his wife styling their daughter’s hair. When she is unavailable to do Zuri’s hair right before a big event, Stephen has to figure it out on his own.

“This story was born out of seeing a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects, and also wanting to promote hair love amongst young men and women of color,” Cherry said.

“I’ve been thinking about this project for couple of years now, but it wasn’t until I started coming across a lot of viral videos online of Black fathers interacting with their sons and daughters that I finally had the confidence to try and make this a real thing.”

This is one of the viral videos to which Cherry refers:

Jason Marino, a 3D-artist, will co-direct “Hair Love” with Cherry, who also wrote the screenplay. Illustrator Vashti Harrison created the initial 2D character designs. Peter Ramsey, who directed”Rise of the Guardians,”is an executive producer. Ramsey is the first African American to direct a big-budget animated feature.

Fundraising for “Hair Love,” which began on July 10, surpassed the initial Kickstarter campaign goal of $75,000 early on.

Matthew A. Cherry / Twitter

“We want to keep it going,” Cherry said. “The more we raise, the better quality film we can deliver.”

He tweeted Monday night that fundraising has reached $200,000.Cherry also added that the story is resonating with supporters.

“The response has been fantastic,” he said. “People are sharing the link and then sharing their own curly hair stories with their dads or even with their kids.

“It’s wonderful to see this story connecting with people. It’s also incredible that we’re growing love and pride for natural curly hair and showing love to Black fathers who don’t usually get a lot of love in mainstream media.”

Click here for Kickstarter campaign page.

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