CHICAGO — There’s a scene in Chicagoan Matthew A. Cherry’s new animated show, “Young Love,” that little girls everywhere know all too well.
Zuri Young Love, a fierce 6-year-old voiced by the fabulous Brooke Monroe Conaway, sits in front of the mirror before school while her mother combs her hair.
Zuri’s mother, Angela Young, voiced by “Insecure”’s Issa Rae, pulls and twists Zuri’s curls into a final look: three tight braids wrapped with colorful hair knockers and clipped with burettes. Cue the flashbacks: the horror of straight hair bent in a greasy swoop when all you wanted was a silk press.
Zuri is disappointed — “This do ain’t doing it for me,” she later tells her father, Stephen Love, voiced by musician Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi — but she doesn’t want to disappoint her mother, who is two months out of the hospital and trying to find her flow with her family.
So after Angela leaves the room, Zuri’s father pulls out a wide-tooth comb and hair grease and styles Zuri’s hair in two jumbo puffs. It’s the sophisticated, imaginary red carpet look Zuri prefers for the day.
Viewers first met Stephen Love, a music producer with locs and tattoos, in “Hair Love,” Cherry’s Academy Award-winning 2019 short film. The seven-minute animated short follows the father and daughter duo as Stephen tries to do Zuri’s hair for the first time.
The film was a rare sight on the big screen. Black children’s hair was still being policed in the school system, and a father styling his daughter’s natural curls wasn’t an ordinary synopsis.
“Young Love” picks up where “Hair Love” left off. The first four episodes of the new animated show created by Cherry aired on Max Sept. 21. More episodes premiere on Thursday.
“Young Love” gives viewers a realistic look at a lower-middle-class intergenerational family as they acclimate after an illness, juggle finances and meet friends in need. It’s also a show filled with love between partners, parents, children and art.
A West Side Story
From the moment “Young Love” begins, you can tell it’s an ode to Chicago.
A song by Chicago rapper Brittney Carter floats between sweeping animated shots of the DuSable bridge, kids hanging out on stoops and a noisy train jangling by.
“Music was super important,” Cherry said. “We knew the music was going to be the thing that gave it energy because the show was going to be so grounded and dealing with real-life issues … We tried to lean into the Chicago nature of it all, but also the fact that these are young millennials and this is what they’re listening to.”
Cherry grew up on Chicago’s Northwest Side, he said. The show takes place on the city’s West Side. The two-flat where the family lives is a replica of where Cherry’s grandmother used to live, Cherry said. The interiors of the brownstones and schools are all designed like buildings in the neighborhood.
For Cherry, “Chicago is everything,” he said.
“I really love being able to set it on the West Side of the city since the South Side always gets the major representation in Chicago when you’re talking about Black Chicago,” Cherry said. “There are a lot of dope Black Chicagoans on the West Side too that are struggling and grinding and trying to figure things out.”
While television shows like “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Sister, Sister” and “Black-ish” display an upper-class Black family dynamic, “Young Love” leans into the “relatable and real” struggles its family faces, Cherry said.
“We set it in Chicago because Chicago is a city that represents hardworking people,” Cherry said. “It’s nicknamed the ‘City of the Big Shoulders.’ People go to work, but they also have a lot of love for their families and the community. We wanted to represent that.”
In one episode, Angela uses her Instagram following to help Zuri’s unhoused classmate and her family find a home. The episode ends with a joke familiar to some: Even after their hard work, the Young-Love family has to buy the “$1 broke tacos” rather than the “$2 double tacos.”
Cherry’s experiences as a young creative “trying to figure out how to make moves” inspired some of the family’s trials, Cherry said. He knows what it’s like to wait months to get paid, only for your car to break down when you finally get that check, Cherry said.
“I think there’s a lot of comedy within the struggle,” he said. “It’s not funny at the time, but when you look back at it. I think there’s a lot of relatability and comedy in the come up, and we hope people find it relatable.”
‘The Love We Put Into It’
Much like its predecessor, “Young Love” spotlights the dynamic and creative nature of Black hair.
Zuri’s hair changes the most, from jumbo puffs to braided side ponytails with slicked edges. Angela, whose tight curls are chopped low, works at a beauty salon where women don wigs and long braids. A rapper wears a style reminiscent of musician Lil Uzi Vert’s purple dreads.
All the styles match the character’s personalities, Cherry said. Creators pulled inspiration from their family and friends and the hairdos they wore when they were children, Cherry said.
“Black hair is so diverse,” Cherry said. “We wanted to showcase that you could be a great dad and have locs and tattoos. You can be a great mom and have a certain hair texture and length. It’s also cool to not have hair or short cuts and big cuts.”
“Young Love” is a comedic, heartfelt show for all ages. Between jokes about wishing for a bigger butt and dealing with corporate America, it’s a refreshing take on the Black family experience with Chicago as its lens.
“We tried our best to be accurate to the city and, hopefully, people see the love we put into it,” Cherry said. “The community, the family-ness and the looking out for each other. I hope that’s what people get from it.”
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