Matthew A. Cherry has created another love letter to Black parenthood in “Young Love,” a new sequel series that debuts Thursday on Max. More than three and a half years after winning an Academy Award for “Hair Love,” a six-minute animated short film about a Black father learning to style his young daughter’s hair before visiting her cancer-stricken mother in the hospital, Matthew A. Cherry has created another love letter to Black parenthood.
The animated sitcom, which is set two months after the events of the short, centers on the Young family, which includes music producer Stephen Love (Scott Mescudi aka Kid Cudi), natural hair stylist and vlogger Angela Young (Issa Rae), who is now cancer-free, and their witty daughter Zuri Young-Love (Brooke Monroe Conaway). They navigate the ups and downs of their personal and professional lives in Cherry’s hometown of Chicago. The voices of Angela’s stern but adoring parents, Gigi and Russell, are provided by Loretta Devine and Harry Lennix, with Tamar Braxton, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Debra Wilson serving as guests.
In a recent video interview, Cherry said, “The thing I think is really unique about our show is that it’s focused on Black millennial parents.” “Usually, the parents in animated series are more baby boomer and have more established occupations, so the concept of examining millennial parents was interesting because they haven’t really realized their ambitions yet. They still have goals to achieve, but they also want to be involved in their children’s lives.
Cherry and his creative team were tasked with developing the universe that he had depicted in the movie and companion children’s book, with the goal of developing a TV show that would have a similar appeal across generations. You “get to see how three different generations attack the same problem,” with an emphasis on the parents and grandparents.
The importance of listening to your children was one of the main lessons that “Hair Love” aimed to convey, according to Cherry. “Stephen was only trying to move quickly and transport her to the hospital. He realized that he needed to occasionally stop and just genuinely listen to his child when he took the time to actually listen. Sometimes they know the solution that I might not.”
A lesson learned there has been applied to the spinoff. “We really didn’t want to give the impression that [Zuri] or any of the children in the show weren’t worth listening to. We wanted kids to use their imaginations and have these great ideas, ambitions, and dreams.
The movie “Hair Love,” which debuted in 2019, was the result of a Kickstarter campaign that began two years earlier. It was praised for debunking myths about Black fathers’ involvement in their children’s lives and emphasizing the value of telling culturally specific stories in a way that makes them feel universal.
Due to the absence of positive portrayal for black people in mainstream media, Cherry claimed that black people “are used to having to have empathy for other lead characters.” However, “it’s incredible that the tide is starting to turn a little bit, because the nicest part about art is when you can develop empathy for groups other than your own group and also learn something new. In the end, I believe, the goal is to demonstrate how similar we are.
Cherry claimed that he was only drawing from his observations of the active Black father figures in his own life. Cherry added that his own father was “one of my Little League coaches and always there with the camcorder recording my games.”
The writer-showrunner welcomed his daughter with his wife, Candice Wilson, last October. “When we were developing the short and the show, I wasn’t a father yet, but I knew that one day I wanted to be, and I wanted her to have these images of a strong family that may not be perfect, but they’re trying to figure things out,” he said.
The “Young Love” writers and producers wanted to explore bigger themes like gender roles and masculinity as well as enduring problems that directly affect the Black community, like gentrification, homelessness, racial justice, and the appropriation and exploitation of Black culture, because animation requires a much longer lead time. We simply sought to give a variety of various opinions on these subjects, Cherry said. “We didn’t necessarily try to tell people exactly how to think about things,” Cherry said.
Hollywood studios and networks pledged to better diversify the entertainment sector with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, but many of those initiatives have since slowed down due to cost-cutting measures and ongoing labor problems.
Cherry asserted that there is still a discrepancy in talent in front of the camera despite the industry’s notable advancements in Black on-screen representation. “Hair Love” probably wouldn’t have achieved the same success without the assistance of people like animation executive Karen Toliver, who is now employed by Netflix, Cherry added.
In the end, you’re asking people to speak for you, so you need representation in everything, he said. “You can watch this really, incredibly Black show that tries to engage with the community. You end up in a situation where your work is damaged if people don’t understand that when they’re trying to market it or if the executives don’t understand that and give you notes that are attempting to dumb it down.
Because some marketing teams are unwilling to make significant financial investments in advertising campaigns, many Black-led organizations are forced to rely on word-of-mouth or their own skills to promote their own work on social media, according to Cherry.
Without that, he said, “you get these situations where shows get canceled [early] because people don’t want to give it the one or two seasons that it may need to actually find its audience.” “In order for a project to have a chance at success, you must permit it to be treated similarly to any other show. … Additionally, it’s up to us to submit those requests.