Expanding on the groundbreaking Academy Award-winning animated short Hair Love, the Young Love animated series gives us an honest and comedic look at Black family life. Millennial parents Stephen Love (Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi) and Angela Young (Issa Rae), experience the joys and complexities of modern life.
After a battle with cancer, Angela struggles to balance her career as a stylist with the demands of parenthood, while Stephen attempts to carve out space as a musician in a competitive industry. Along with their fearless daughter Zuri (Brooke Monroe Conaway), this Chicago family juggles careers, marriage, parenthood, social issues, and multi-generational dynamics while striving to make a better life for themselves. In 2019, Matthew A. Cherry’s short film, Hair Love, followed the story of a man who must style his daughter’s natural hair for the first time. It showcased the power of love, family, and embracing cultural identity. The film’s message about representation and self-expression is so important. It was also adapted into a picture book and it became a New York Times Bestseller selling over 1 million copies worldwide.
BGN had the privilege of speaking with Cherry via Zoom about Young Love being so relatable to Black life, what he hopes people take away from the series, and his thoughts about what Black representation may soon look like in films and shows.
First let me say that Young Love is beautiful – all 12 episodes. The series picks up where Hair Love left off and explores the complexities and joys of a young, Black family. It is so honest and relatable. Can you talk about why you decided to tackle certain subject matter including different social issues, and even non-traditional parenthood?
I had never really seen an animated series that focused on a young millennial. Typically, the animated series that we all know and love – The Simpsons, Family Guy, Bob’s Burgers – they all tend to have parents who are in the Baby Boomer generation; 40s and 50s. It was one of those things where them being in their 20s led to a lot of fun exploration about what it’s like when you’re struggling and on the ‘come up.’ There’s a lot of comedy in that but also a lot of heart. We also have the extra layer of Angela coming off of an illness and she’s coming back to work for the first time, trying to figure out where her place in life is right now. Everybody’s just trying to make it.
I’m glad that you said it was so relatable – that was the biggest goal. I feel like a lot of shows and movies that exist now just show the one percent, and we wanted to be representative of the vast majority of America that doesn’t know what it’s like to live in a mansion; that doesn’t know what it’s like to have the nicest car. That’s real. We’ve all been there before, even if we do have a lot of money. We really wanted to put a lot of love in it. Black parents, Black parenthood, Black grandparents – it’s just such funny storylines from that, with trying to exist and live out your dreams. Angela works in a more traditional work environment in the salon, but obviously has her struggles there too. She has big goals and trying to make things more efficient, but getting some push back. Steven is working in the music industry and trying to preserve his voice and his sound. It was all fun things to explore and really a fun show to make.
The characters in the series reminded me of people in my own family. Is this the connection you were hoping for? What are you hoping people will take away from watching the series?
Exactly that. We wanted people to feel familiar, like these are people they know and love. The starting point was the multi-generational thing – wanting Gigi and Russell (the grandparents) to feel real. Zuri is probably my favorite character. I just love how open and honest and free she is; representing Gen Z in a great way, because they really want to change the world. If there’s a problem, they’re not going to sit around and wait for someone to handle it. She may not have the best methods, but she’s definitely trying to figure it out!
We know that Black representation matters, especially now with so much going on in our world, including the current strikes. What are your thoughts about what that representation will look like for Black shows, Black writers, and Black actors in the near future?
I do think the main reason why people are on strike is because they see their future being threatened. Marginalized people are always going to be the first causalities, when it comes to something like this. So, I think we’re going to lose some pretty good people, just because Los Angeles is an expensive place to live. This industry is definitely something where you have to be doing it at a high level to even survive out here. I also think it’s going to be hard coming out of these strikes. Everybody is going to tighten their belt. With Black movies and TV shows, if people feel they exist more on the margins and not the mainstream things people tend to watch, those are typically the ones that get cut. I do think there will be less opportunities for us. But if we take the lessons from this strike and try to do things more independently, and be more creative how we get our stuff out there, I think we will continue to make strides. I do think it will get harder before it gets better. I’m really thankful that everybody is standing up. Being on strike right now is really a selfless act. You’re obviously cutting off your own well-being for a greater cause but they really are thinking of the future. They really want those coming behind them to be able to survive and right now it’s just super hard.
What is next for Young Love, especially our girl Zuri?
I think Zuri is just going to continue to try and change the world. If we get a second season, we’ll just continue to explore her with her friend group. I’m really excited about the possibility of her taking after her dad and expressing an interest in music. I think the fact that we’ve lost so many music programs in schools is unfortunate. This show could really be an opportunity to introduce more kids to the art form of music, marrying it with the modern way of making beats. Zuri is going to continue to be a handful for her parents, the apple of her grandparents’ eye, and a headache for her teachers!
Young Love debuts September 21, 2023 on MAX.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.