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New Nick Jr. Series Created By White Woman Accused Of Ripping Off Oscar-Winning 'Hair Love' Short Film

New Nick Jr. Series Created By White Woman Accused Of Ripping Off Oscar-Winning 'Hair Love' Short Film
Sony Animation/Nick Jr.

On July 10, 2017 a Black artist named Matthew A. Cherry began the kickstarter for his project Hair Love. Cherry wanted to tell the story of a young girl and her parents—all of whom embrace, find power in and show love through their natural hair.

In 2018, a project called Fashion Ally was greenlit. The creator of Fashion Ally is a White woman named Paula Rosenthal. This will matter later. Pin that info.

Fast forward a few years to present date and time.

Matthew A. Cherry was able to reach his kickstarter goal. He used that money to support a team of Black creators and tell the story of Hair Love—which became a short film that ended up winning an Oscar.

It touches on long-term illness, a father struggling to handle what mom normally does, a creative and determined young girl (and her feline sidekick) who connects with mom through blogs/videos, and the idea of hair as a woman's crowning glory ... and how losing it doesn't make a woman less of a Queen, especially to those who love her.

It's a powerful six minutes even with almost no dialogue.

The story was such a powerful vehicle for love and acceptance of natural hair, in fact, that Cherry turned it into a book. The book became a best seller, inspiring children and adults to embrace and celebrate their natural hair texture.

That is when Nick Jr. announced its new project, Made By Maddie.

The project revolved around a Black family—a father with locs, just like Hair Love; a creative and determined young girl and her feline sidekick, just like Hair Love. It also features a mom whose hair looks almost exactly like the mother from Hair Love in the end scenes.

You may also notice how a blog/videos play a major role and that the design choices—right down to the color and patterns on the cat—are almost note-for-note the same. In fact, there are so many similarities that people just assumed Made By Maddie was connected to Hair Love in some way.

Nick Jr. promoted it as a positive moment of representation, so much of the public believed that they had, in some way, connected with the creators of Hair Love and adjusted the animation style to be more in line with other children's shows, like Doc McStuffins. The trailer for Made By Maddie features much more dialogue than the mostly-silent Hair Love, in which the only character who actually speaks is Mom, and even then it's in the video Zuri watches.

Keep an eye out for similarities here in Mom, Dad, daughter, cat, and device.

Let's do some direct comparisons.

We will start with the mothers and daughters together. The mothers in both projects wear their natural hair loose and carved out. Both Zuri and Maddie wear theirs in poofs with pink bows. Mom's hair in the Hair Love screenshot is longer, but for much of the video she has no hair at all.

This style is pre-illness and in the end credits her hair is shorter as it regrows—which you will see in a moment.

Hair Love / Screenshot

Made By Maddie / Screenshot

Now lets turn our attention to Dad.

Both projects feature Dad as a man with shoulder-length locs worn loose with the top pulled back, a longish face and wearing a light blue button-down collared shirt with the sleeves rolled up. He has a crooked smile in both projects as well.

It's a very specific aesthetic.

Hair Love / Screenshot

Made By Maddie / Screenshot

Look at the families spending time together.

Hair Love / Screenshot

Made By Maddie / Screenshot

Check out Mom's stance—and hair length/style, as we mentioned earlier.

Hair Love / Screenshot

Made By Maddie / Screenshot

Even the cats...

Hair Love / Screenshot

Made By Maddie / Screenshot

Now that you've seen the side-by-sides, it's easy to understand why people believed Made By Maddie was connected to Hair Love.

It is not.

In fact, Made By Maddie wasn't even originally Made By Maddie at all. Made By Maddie started life as Fashion Ally, the project we mentioned earlier. Fashion Ally didn't seem to originally center around a Black family, though we are unsure when any changes were made.

What we do know is that it was not created until about a year after Hair Love and that Nickelodeon did not approach Matthew A. Cherry to work on a project with them or even to collaborate on Made By Maddie. Nick did promote Made By Maddie as positive representation of Black families and natural hair, so once people found out Matthew A. Cherry was not involved, they started to ask the obvious next question.

If Cherry and his team of Black creators didn't do Made By Maddie, who did?

The answer, of course, is Paula Rosenthal—who didn't seem to want to be found all that easily.

While the acting team on Made By Maddie was a mostly Black cast, the creators, directors, producers and people in power are not. It could be said that this was all one big coincidence had Hair Love not been a major cultural moment.

Oh, also all of this.

The confusion—and anger—was pretty real.

Thing is, the issue is more complicated than just "White woman steals Black artist's work... again."

Everyone in power in the Made By Maddie project was White, and the content seems suspiciously similar, yes. A lot of people are angry about that, yes.

But Nick Jr's response to cancel the show entirely has people heated as well.

There is a serious lack of representation when it comes to little Black girls, positive and affectionate nuclear Black families and natural hair. Also, the voice actress who was hired to play Maddie just lost a wonderful opportunity over this.

More than anything, people seem like they would have liked to have seen some sort of compromise. Made By Maddie was acquired from Rosenthal's team—but Nick Jr. absolutely has to resources to create another show with original ideas and design work.

They can easily recast the young actress who lost out because of these actions.

Legalities are complicated, but Nickelodeon is in an excellent position and has both the time and financial resources to handle this. Ideally, we would love to see original representation and that actress given the chance to shine without being connected to the rest of the drama and accusations.