Director Matthew A. Cherry and producer Karen Rupert Toliver arrive for the 2020 Oscars Nominees Luncheon in Hollywood on January 27, 2020. (Photo by Valerie MACON / AFP)
The Obamas formed their own production company in 2018, Higher Ground Productions. It was then announced that the Obamas had inked a multiyear deal with Netflix to produce content. The first film backed by Higher Ground Productions was “American Factory,” which won the award for best documentary feature. “Hair Love” began as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017 and on Sunday night it too won an Oscar, taking home the award for Best Animated Short Film.
“Hair Love” is the ultimate example of Black creatives believing in their idea, finding the funding and pursuing it. Matthew Cherry wrote and directed the film, having been inspired by videos of Black fathers styling their daughters’ hair. Cherry is a Chicago native and former NFL player, who decided to leave behind sports to pursue a career in film. He launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance the film in 2017, with an initial goal of $75,000. Cherry was able to raise closer to $300,000. The film, co-produced by Karen Rupert Toliver, follows the story of a man who attempts to do his daughter’s hair for the first time. The film also features Issa Rae as a voice.
The Obamas have left the White House but they are still shaping American culture and modeling excellence for the nation. “American Factory” chronicles a clash of cultures, set in motion after a Chinese billionaire opens a factory in an abandoned General Motors plant and hires 2,000 American workers. Dayton, Ohio, a post-industrial center, serves as the setting of the film. Fuyao, the Chinese company that purchased the factory, allowed filmmakers to film everything. The film captures Americans who seek to help Chinese workers adjust to American culture. It also shows Chinese management wrestling with the differing labor standards and work ethic of American workers.
American Factory and Hair Love both won Oscars, a fact that merely serves as a footnote to the larger narrative. Black people have any number of stories to tell, if they would only choose to be bold enough to tell them. No, not everyone has the privilege or platform of the first Black family to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even so, as Cherry has proven, Black people can find the means and creativity to tell their stories to the world. If the rest of the world recognizes it, great. If the world rejects it, keep creating anyway.