Collage: Alex Sandoval - Getty Images / MAX / Everett Collection Matthew A. Cherry
Creator Matthew A. Cherry brings audiences home with Young Love.
Set on the west side of Chicago, where Cherry grew up, Young Love centers on Zuri Young Love (Brooke Monroe Conaway) and her parents Stephen Love (Scott Mescudi) and Angela Young (Issa Rae). The show depicts their daily life as the family goes through a transitional period with Angela returning home after being in the hospital, receiving treatment for cancer. She has to get back into a rhythm with her family and work as a hairstylist while Stephen gets back to his career as a music producer. "They're still trying to achieve their dreams, but they also have a young child they want to be present for," Cherry explains.
Young Love's journey from idea to television is an unprecedented one. It all began with a Kickstarter campaign in 2017. What followed was a beautifully illustrated book, an Oscar-winning short film, other merchandise, and now an animated series on Max. "I have hair products in stores," says Cherry, "So many crazy things have happened and never in a million years did I think any of this would happen."
Cherry's Oscar-winning short, Hair Love, didn't have dialogue outside of Zuri listening to Angela's blogs, so the Max series provides the chance for viewers to get the characters much better.
The animated series is full of voice talent fans will recognize (including Loretta Devine, and Tamar Braxton), but it was Conaway's role as Zuri that proved the most difficult to cast. "We wanted to cast a young kid who added a layer of authenticity," the creator says. "In real life, she's super adorable and she's able to hit some of the more complicated dialogue we give Zuri because she's the type of character who talks and thinks a little differently than most kids her age."
Ahead of Young Love's premiere, we spoke to its creator about what inspires him as a storyteller.
Sony Pictures Animation 'Young Love'
The Young Love creator grew up on Reginald Hudlin's work, so his career has served as a source of inspiration. Among Hudlin's credits as a director are classic films Boomerang and House Party (which he also wrote), both of which Cherry grew up on. "He's somebody who really has done it at every level," Cherry says. In addition to his film work, Hudlin also wrote a great Black Panther comic series.
Malcolm D. Lee
To watch a Malcolm D. Lee project means you're in for a good time, and Cherry knows that. Best known for The Best Man franchise, which span decades from 1999 to 2022 when The Best Man The Final Chapters series wrapped it up, Lee has long been telling stories about Black characters that are culturally relevant and financially successful. "I just love that they are able to entertain and get a nice message across, but do it in a commercial way," he says about Lee's work, which has also included Girls Trip and Space Jam: A New Legacy. After Hair Love's award-winning run, Cherry aims to hit a similar tone when bringing the Young family to television.
Cherry can deeply relate to Stephen Love's balancing act of family and career. All of the writers pulled stories from their life experiences when working on the series. When his journey with these characters began, Cherry was not a father, but he and his wife had their daughter in 2022. "A lot of these stories are very relatable," he says. "Just all the running around that you have to do to try to make sure that everybody's happy and also that you're happy too."
Sony Pictures Animation 'Young Love'
Many have seen Jordan Peele's career as aspirational, but Cherry's connection to the Get Out director is more personal. Early on in the process of making Hair Love, Cherry was working as an executive at Peele's production company Monkeypaw Productions "He was really supportive in allowing me to work on this on the side while doing my day job," he shares about Peele. That is in addition to feeling inspired by Peele's celebrated, groundbreaking work.
Medicine for Melancholy
Young Love is about a Black family simply existing and Barry Jenkins' films were "super instructmental" to that aspect of Cherry's storytelling. He notes Jenkins' debut Medicine for Melancholy as a prime example of how Jenkins does it successfully. The 2008 romantic drama chronicles the one-day romance of Black twentysomethings Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins) who spend a full day together after a one-night stand. "It was a day in the life of Black people in San Francisco and we see that a story could be as simple as that," Cherry says. That approach will be seen as Zuri deals with issues at school, Stephen tries to get his career as a music producer off the ground, and Angela readjusts to life at home on Young Love.
As an ex-NFL player, Cherry has spent a lot of time on football fields and that experience has taught him the importance of teamwork. "From every level, from a PA up to a director, it's all important and that all helps to move the machine forward," he says, "You take one piece of the puzzle away, none of it will work." That approach is what Cherry brings to all his projects and to the folks who work alongside him.
In addition to Zuri's story, Cherry has directed episodes of several television shows. Working on the second season of Swagger (he directed two episodes) Cherry learned an important lesson from the Apple TV+ drama's creator Reggie Rock Bythewood. The series, which explores the world of youth basketball through the players, coaches, and the parents of players, allows its characters to redeem themselves after making choices that don't sit right with audiences. "I've witnessed a lot of things on the set of season 2 of Swagger where I feel like other creators would have had a character do something that wasn't favorable to an audience and leave it at that then move on, but Reggie is amazing at showing redemption," Cherry explains.
Cherry's directing credits also include black-ish, Ghosts and Abbott Elementary.
Young Love premieres September 21 on Max.