Former NFL wide receiver Matthew Cherry took home one of Hollywood’s greatest honors on Sunday night, winning an Oscar for his animated short film, “Hair Love.” Cherry wrote and directed the short, which centers around an African American father attempting to style his young daughter’s hair for the first time.
After playing college football at Akron for four seasons, Cherry went undrafted in the 2004 NFL Draft but was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who stashed the receiver on their practice squad until he was signed by the Cincinnati Bengals.
That film career reached new heights on Sunday when Cherry became the second pro athlete in three years to win an Oscar in the animated short category. He followed in the footsteps of the late Kobe Bryant, who won the 2018 Oscar for the short film, “Dear Basketball.”
While accepting the honor from the Academy alongside producer Karen Rupert Toliver on Sunday, Cherry dedicated the win to Bryant.
Shortly after Cherry took home the award, the Bengals congratulated him on Twitter.
Speaking of Twitter, “Hair Love” has strong roots on social media. Back in 2016, Cherry shared a computer generated image and put out a call for 3D artists, claiming he had an idea for “an Oscar worthy short film.” You could say he called his shot.
Shortly after putting out the call, Cherry created a Kickstarter campaign to get his vision off the ground. The campaign, which had an initial goal of $75,000, went on to raise over $300,000 — the most ever for a short film project on the fundraising site. In March of 2019, Sony Pictures acquired the short film and released it later in the year.
Cherry said the inspiration behind the project was to have more representation in animation while helping to normalize black hair and put an end to discrimination. In his acceptance speech, Cherry reference California’s CROWN Act, which seeks to ensure protection against discrimination based on hairstyles.
Cherry also acknowledged Deandre Arnold, an 18-year-old Texas high schooler who was suspended and told to cut his dreadlocks or else he wouldn’t be able to graduate. Arnold was a special guest of Cherry’s at Sunday’s ceremony.
You can watch the full short below:
Among the other athletes involved with the project were former NFL player Andrew Hawkins (executive producer) and Dwyane Wade (producer).