LOS ANGELES (AP) — When Matthew A. Cherry became an Oscar nominee, that was initially good enough for him, until he heard about the death of Kobe Bryant, a former professional athlete — just like himself — who was nominated in the same category in 2018.
For Cherry, Bryant’s death is fueling his desire to win in an Oscar trophy. The director, who is a former NFL player, could accomplish that feat through “Hair Love,” which is nominated for best animated short, a category the NBA legend won for his project “Dear Basketball.” The Los Angeles Lakers superstar died in a helicopter crash Sunday involving eight others including his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna.
“Hair Love” delves into a story about an African American father who learns how to style his daughter’s hair for the first time. He created the 6-minute film to highlight a black family in animation — which he says is a rarity — provide a positive representation for black kids and normalize black hair.
As a football player, Cherry had stints with several teams including the Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens.
In a recent interview, he spoke with The Associated Press about continuing Bryant’s legacy in film, the importance of short films and dealing with the stereotypes of an athlete transitioning into the industry.
AP: How did Bryant’s Oscar win in 2018 inspire you as a filmmaker?
CHERRY: Just knowing it’s possible. Sometimes I think people talk about diversity and inclusion. I think the best way for that to make a difference is just to see people that look like you kind of doing jobs you didn’t know existed. … He really just set the bar.
AP: How has Bryant’s death impacted you?
CHERRY: I know they say awards don’t matter and everything, but I really would love to win, especially since it’s the same category. … I would love to win so I could shout out his name to honor him and continue his legacy. It’s hard as an athlete trying to transition into a different career. So often, you get told to stick to sports. You tell people what you want to do and they’re like kind of whatever and brushing you off. I think to make it to this level and being in the same category as him, it’s just all really kind of crazy. I really just want to represent for him.