Directors of Animated Shorts “Try to Educate” with Diverse Characters

COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES ANIMATION; Courtesy of Pixar

A pair of inclusive stories look to give viewers "courage to embrace their full being."

Matthew A. Cherry, the director of independently made animated short Hair Love, can think of only a handful of animated features that have black characters in main roles. "When you don't see yourself represented and you don't see people with your same type of hair seen as the hero and seen as loving and desired, it really does a number on your self-confidence," says Cherry, whose short follows an African American father trying to figure out how to do his daughter's hair.

Cherry isn't the only filmmaker who created a film for those who've been marginalized. Purl, from writer-director Kristen Lester, follows a pink ball of yarn that tries to find acceptance in a male-dominated work environment. "I wrote the story based off of my experience of being a woman in animation," says Lester, whose film was made through Pixar's SparkShorts program (an initiative giving employees six months and budgets to produce short animated films). She says that, like her protagonist, she wanted to fit in and find professional acceptance. "Because I often felt like I was the only woman in the room, I put aside the things that I felt made me different," she says. "I wanted people who had been in that experience themselves to feel like they weren't alone. I also wanted to give people the courage to embrace their full being and what makes them unique individuals."

Cherry's inspiration came from social media. "I kept coming across these videos of dads doing their daughters' hair, or playing with their daughters," and many of the videos had thousands of retweets. "Upon further research, I found that a lot of people didn't really see black dads in that same light, as domestic and doing all these simple tasks we all take for granted," he says. "So, to me it was a big opportunity to try to educate." 

This story first appeared in the Nov. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.