Dallas Oscar viewers may have been unaware Sunday night that someone local was on the stage, accepting a statuette. But Greenhill School, where Karen Rupert Toliver attended, was pretty proud of their former student.
Toliver, who graduated from Greenhill in 1984, was the producer for the animated short Hair Love, which picked up an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film Sunday night. Toliver has worked with Walt Disney Animation Studios, Fox Animation Studios, and Sony Pictures Animation, and has produced films like Ferdinand, Curious George and Meet the Robinsons.
“Greenhill is incredibly proud of Karen Rupert Toliver ’84 for her historic Oscar win with the Hair Love team,” Kerry Shea, the school’s spokesperson, said. “It’s wonderful to see one of our alumni pursue her dreams and achieve such extraordinary success.”
“Given the importance of representation of all people in the arts, in literature, and in learning materials, we are proud that she is producing work that helps to bring greater diversity in animation.”
The short tells the story of an African-American father who tries to style his daughter’s hair for the first time.
The film was written and directed by former NFL lineman Matthew A. Cherry, with Toliver, now executive vice president of creative development at Sony Pictures Animation, as co-producer. The project got off the ground thanks to a 2017 Kickstarter campaign. After moving to Sony from Fox in 2017, she worked with Cherry as a side project, and then arranged for the film to be shown before The Angry Birds Movie 2.
“When you see lead characters that don’t have the same hair as you, or the same features as you, it can really do a number to your self-confidence,” Cherry said in a red carpet interview. “And also, I just wanted to normalize black hair.”
Cherry said the duo’s backstage interview after accepting their Oscar that when he began the Kickstarter campaign, he wasn’t seeing a lot of diversity in animation.
“And when I was coming across a lot of these viral videos of dads doing their daughter’s hair, it was just so inherently joyful, our biggest challenge was just to maintain that joy that made people gravitate toward those videos in the first place,” he said.
“We hope that the success of this just shows that those positive images are things that people want to see, and you can have the variety of imagery – you can do those stories that are more dramatic, or are more sad, but the joyous ones are just as possible and powerful,” Toliver added.
— Karen Toliver (@KarenRToliver) February 9, 2020
“This film was for you,” Cherry said, when asked about the children who would see it. “Throughout the years there haven’t been characters specifically in animation that look like you. This film was made for you to see yourself. There is space for you in animation and hopefully, this win will help to propel the next generation of diverse people and people of color into that world.”
A beaming Toliver agreed, and said that she was looking forward to the film’s successes potentially interesting more children in animation.
“Matthew is a storyteller, he came from live-action, he didn’t have an animation background, but he had a story to tell,” she said. “And that’s what animation – just like any other medium – is, a place to tell a story. So for those little girls or boys, if they have a story to tell, come on! I’m ready for you.”
Want to see Hair Love? We’ve included it below.