In recent years, there has been a surge of animated shorts made from underrepresented animators who have used their own stories to create powerful new stories. Before Hair Love, there was In A Heartbeat, which got its start from a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2017. It centered on a closeted boy whose heart literally pops out of his chest over an attraction to another boy, a means to universalize gay romance. It immediately became a viral hit; as of today, the short has over 40 million views on YouTube. Just last year, Bao, about a Chinese-Canadian mom and a bun that comes to life, ran before Incredibles 2 in theaters. Made by Chinese-Canadian Pixar animator Domee Shi, the short went on to win the Academy Award for best animated short in a category full of nominees with diverse and culturally profound stories, such as Weekends, made by Canadian animator Trevor Jimenez which told his story of growing up as a child of divorce.
Hair Love is the latest of these films. In July 2017, former NFL wide receiver-turned-producer, writer, and director Matthew A. Cherry (who executive produced BlacKkKlansman) posted a campaign on Kickstarter for the production of an animated short film focused on the relationships between African-American fathers and daughters. With the initial concept in mind for several years, Cherry's motivation to eventually make Hair Love came from watching viral videos of Black fathers attempting, and sometimes succeeding, at doing their daughters' hair, a dynamic in Black family culture that goes unrepresented in the media. After the campaign was launched, it went viral, making the rounds on social media. In less than a month, the project made over $280,000 from nearly 5,000 backers on a pledged goal of $75,000, becoming the number one-funded short film campaign in Kickstarter history.
After the success of the Kickstarter, some of the most iconic Black animation artists became attached to the project. Besides Cherry as the writer and a director, there's Everett Downing, an animator who worked on a number of Pixar films, and Bruce W. Smith, one of the pioneers of animated storytelling and creator of the Disney Channel series The Proud Family. One of the people with the short since day one was Peter Ramsey, a director on the recent Academy Award-winning film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Before that film, Ramsey became the first African-American to helm a big budget animated feature, Dreamworks' Rise of the Guardians. Alongside executive producing with Ramsey was Frank E. Abney III, an animator at Pixar who worked on a slew of their recent features including Coco and Toy Story 4. Jordan Peele, Yara Shahidi, Gabrielle Union, and Dwayne Wade are just a few of the recognizable names that backed the project as well.