1 of 5 | Matthew A. Cherry and executive producer Karen Rupert Toliver hold the Oscars they won for "Hair Love." File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo
LOS ANGELES, Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Matthew A. Cherry said his animated series, Young Love, premiering Thursday on Max, focuses on parents of his generation. Cherry, 41, is considered a millennial.
"I had never really seen an animated series that focused on millennial parents," Cherry told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.
Cherry became a father for the first time last year. The characters of Young Love began in Cherry's animated short, Hair Love, which won the Oscar for Best Animated Short in 2020.
Based on Cherry's 2019 picture book, Hair Love, the animated short introduces Zuri and her father, Stephen Love. Stephen tries to do Zuri's hair after his wife, Angela (voice of Issa Rae), recorded a YouTube video about styling natural hair.
Sicne Stephen and Zuri didn't talk in Hair Love, Young Love cast Kid Cudi as the voice of Stephen and 11-year-old Brooke Monroe Conaway as Zuri, after finding Brooke in a nationwide casting search.
"She's the only kid in our main cast," Cherry said. "Even her friends are played by young adults."
The Love family expanded in the series. Stephen, Angela and Zuri live with Angela's parents, Russell (Harry Lennix) and Gigi (Loretta Devine). Cherry said this reflects a common struggle of millennial parents.
"I'm a really big proponent of parents and grandparents allowing their kids to stay in the house until they get back on their feet," Cherry said. "It just felt very organic."
Stephen is a struggling music producer. Cherry said he drew on his own experiences as a struggling artist waiting for his big break.
"It never happens as fast as you think it will," Cherry said. "People don't want to pay you on time. People want to take your work and appropriate it or not give you credit."
Cherry said he'd already developed the expanded world before the short. For example, decided Stephen was in the music industry, and viewers can find hints of that in Hair Love.
"There's some musical instruments scattered throughout the house," Cherry said.
Angela was recovering in the hospital in Hair Love. In Young Love, she has returned to work at a hair salon, but Cherry did not want the series to focus entirely on hair as the short.
"We see Angela and other characters who work in the hair salon doing hair, but it's not all about that," Cherry said. "We featured 100 different Black hairstyles in the show, and it's really cool just seeing the expansiveness of that."
Expanding the series also meant creating new environments for the Love family to visit. Cherry said Sony Pictures Animation, which produced the short and the series, and Max supported his ambitions to develop Zuri's school, Angela's hair salon and the locations of the Chicago music industry in which Stephen works..
Young Love uses the same Harmony animation software Hair Love did. If Hair Love fans notice any difference, it's due to expanded workload to create 12 half-hour episodes.
"We didn't have as much hand-drawn animation in there as we would have liked to," Cherry said. "We had to pick our battles."
The Hair Love/Young Love journey began for Cherry in 2017. At the time, he wanted to feature more Black characters in animation, including Black fathers.
Fortunately, Cherry said, representation in animation already was improving by the time Hair Love came out in 2019. Films like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, Soul and Spies in Disguise featured Black characters, but Cherry said there was still room for more.
"It just felt like it was good to create a character in Zuri that young people could see themselves in," Cherry said. "It really was just trying to do something that could have a nice level of representation for people who normally don't see it."
On Oscar night, Cherry said, he remembers sitting behind Greta Gerwig and spotting Leonardo DiCaprio, Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Parasite. Cherry said he also recognized many deserving filmmakers still don't win, and even fewer have been Black in all the categories.
"Only so many African-Americans ever had won an Oscar," Cherry said. "So to be in that small select group is really an honor."