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‘Hair Love’ just won an Oscar. What does it say about the CROWN Act and just how did a BYU grad get involved?

A screenshot from “Hair Love,” which won the Oscar for best animated short film Sunday night.
YouTube screenshot

SALT LAKE CITY — After Kobe Bryant’s death, the hashtag #GirlDad went viral.

The hashtag, which accompanied photos of proud fathers with their daughters, represented the pride Bryant had in raising his four daughters. “Girls are amazing,” Bryant reportedly told ESPN’s Elle Duncan. “I would have five more girls if I could. I’m a girl dad.”

During Sunday night’s 92nd Academy Awards, “Hair Love” — an animated short film about a black father attempting to style his daughter’s natural hair for the first time — won an Oscar. It brought #GirlDad back into focus and shined a light on the CROWN Act, which many had never heard of until it received the Oscar shoutout.

Writer/co-director and former NFL player Matthew A. Cherry dedicated his award to Bryant, who embraced his family life after retiring from the NBA (and won the same Oscar two years ago for “Dear Basketball”).

”May we all have a second act as great as his was,” Cherry said.

Matthew A. Cherry, left, and Karen Rupert Toliver, winners of the award for best animated short film for “Hair Love”, pose in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Matthew A. Cherry, left, and Karen Rupert Toliver, winners of the award for best animated short film for “Hair Love”, pose in the press room at the Oscars on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.
Jordan Strauss, Invision via Associated Press

Hair Love” has generated a lot of buzz. The animated short was uploaded to YouTube in December and has more than 16 million views. Running just under seven minutes, the film brings more diversity to animation, breaks fatherhood stereotypes and has raised conversations about the importance of hair and heritage in the black community.

”’Hair Love’ was done because we wanted to see more representation in animation, we wanted to normalize black hair,” Cherry said during his acceptance speech.

“There’s a very important issue that’s out there — the CROWN Act. And If we can help get this passed in all 50 states it will help stories like DeAndre Arnold’s ... stop to happen.”

Arnold, who was Cherry’s guest at the Oscars, is a teenager from Texas who recently made the news when his school administrators told him he wouldn’t be able to graduate if he didn’t cut his dreadlocks.

The CROWN Act — an acronym for “Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair” — “ensures protection against discrimination based on hairstyles,” according to its website. The act has been passed in California, New York and New Jersey, and introduced in more than 20 states, CNN reported.

In 2016, Cherry tweeted that he had “an Oscar worthy short film idea.” In 2017, that idea became a kickstarter that sought to raise $75,000. “Hair Love” went on to raise more than $300,000 — the most a short film project has raised on the site, Deadline reported.

It was clear there was an appetite for a film about fatherhood.

Bryce Randle, a BYU grad who works at Disney Television Animation, became an editor for the project about a year after the kickstarter campaign. What started as “a little side hustle” that could help pay for his kids’ summer camp turned into a meaningful project that resonated with him — especially as a dad with two daughters.

“I love that the dad (in ‘Hair Love’) is trying to be the best dad that he can with the mom gone. I think the reason that it’s so appealing is because it’s very authentic — a lot of dads can go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s something I relate to’ no matter what your ethnicity is,” Randle told the Deseret News as he was heading into work. “I’m terrible at doing my daughters’ hair. Whenever I bring my daughters to preschool and my wife is out of town, I bring a Starbucks gift card for (the teachers) just so they can do their hair.”

Randle, who studied media arts at BYU, worked on “Hair Love” on-and-off for a year, seeing the short film through several versions (“Hair Love” once got to eight minutes). Throughout the editing process, Randle arranged and rearranged storyboards — at one point he was working with 1,500 black-and-white drawings — cutting things out to help with pacing and to get the story’s message across more clearly.

Randle considers himself to be a “terrible artist.” (On a recent Sunday at church, he was drawing a lion for his 5-year-old daughter and his work prompted his 8-year-old daughter to lean over and ask, “Do you want me to help you with that?”)

A screenshot from “Hair Love,” which won the Oscar for best animated short Sunday night.
YouTube screenshot

But editing has been a great way for Randle to still be involved in the animation field. In early 2019, the editor turned his work on “Hair Love” over to Illya Owens, a full-time editor at Sony Pictures Animation, when the company expressed interest in acquiring the short film. “Hair Love” hit theaters Aug. 14, 2019, playing in front of “The Angry Birds Movie 2.”

Even more people got to see “Hair Love” when it came out on YouTube. And now, with the attention it received at the Oscars, even more people are watching the film.

Randle was at a 4-year-old’s birthday party, playing tetherball with kids in the neighborhood, when the project he first connected with two years ago claimed the big award.

“I knew it was going to be something special, and I knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of,” Randle said. “There’s not a lot of projects that you get to work on that you feel emotionally proud of. … What (‘Hair Love’) comes down to is that family is the most important thing. And that’s … something that resonated with me as a BYU grad.”