'Hair Love' brings Oscar to St. Louis

'Hair Love' brings Oscar to St. Louis

ST. LOUIS – St. Louis was represented two-fold at the Academy Awards this year with two nominations, with “Hair Love” locking a win for Best Animated Short Film Sunday at the Academy Awards. 

“Blessed to be a part of this awesome project,” St. Louis native David Steward II said on Twitter, adding that it was great working with creator Mathew Cherry and co-producers Carl Forge, Karen Rupert Toliver and Monica Young. 

A second documentary with St. Louis ties was “St. Louis Superman,” featuring former Missouri state representative and St. Louisan Bruce Franks. “St. Louis Superman” was nominated for Best Documentary Short Subject but did not win.

Steward co-produced “Hair Love” through his St. Louis-based Lion Forge Animation studio, the only black-owned animation studio in the country. 

Lion Forge is one of eight outfits under the umbrella of Steward’s Polarity diversified global media company.  

Steward is the son of David Steward, co-founder and chairman of World Wide Technology. The younger Steward specializes in development, production and distribution of media content. Some of the companies focus on comic books and graphic novels, music, periodicals, and art books.  

The seven-minute film centers on the relationship between an African-American father and his daughter and her natural hair. 

The “Hair Love” picture book hit stores in May of last year and made the New York Times best seller list.

Both were written by former NFL player Mathew A. Cherry. 

The story was born out of a lack of representation in mainstream animated projects as well as a desire to promote hair love among men and women of color. 

“We wanted to normalize black hair,” Cherry said while accepting the Oscar along with Toliver. 

“We have a firm belief that representation matters, especially in cartoons, because in cartoons that’s when we first see our movies and it’s how we shape our lives and think about how we view the world,” Toliver told the crowd. The audience included their special guest DeAndre Arnold, 18, whose high school suspended him for his dreadlocks. 

“There’s a very important issue out there,” Cherry said. “It’s the Crown Act. And if we can help get this passed in all 50 states, it will help people like DeAndre Arnold.”  

The Crown Act (Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair) ensures protection against discrimination based on hairstyles by extending statutory protection to hair texture and protective styles in the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and state Education Codes. 

Just four years ago the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a lawsuit filed by the EEOC against an Alabama-based management company that refused to hire someone with dreadlocks. 

Franks, of “St. Louis Superman,” said that now that he was among those in Tinsel Town, his goal was make sure the stories of black people and their community were uplifted. 

“I’m from 4300 Gibson [Ave]. To think that our story and the story of St. Louis and so many other communities could be highlighted on such a big platform was far out of reach in our minds,” he said. “But we just told them that you couldn’t deny the power of authentic storytelling centered around the communities that need to tell them.” 

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