Gabrielle Union invites Texas teen who was told to cut dreadlocks to the Oscars

The actress is among the producers of "Hair Love," which is nominated for an Academy Award for best animated short. The film is directed by Matthew Cherry, a former NFL player.

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By Janelle Griffith

The Texas student whose high school told him to cut his dreadlocks may not be able walk at his graduation. But he may stroll down the red carpet at the 2020 Academy Awards.

DeAndre Arnold, a senior at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu, in southeast Texas, was suspended and told he won't be allowed to walk at his graduation ceremony unless he cuts his dreadlocks to meet the school district's dress code, he and his family have said.

His story has drawn national attention and an outpouring of support, including now from actress Gabrielle Union.

"Hey DeAndre, I’m Gabrielle Union and I am one of the producers of the Oscar-nominated short film ‘Hair Love,’" Union said in a video to Arnold that aired Friday on "CBS This Morning."

The film is an "amazing story about this young black father with long, beautiful locs, just trying to figure out how to do his daughter’s hair," the actress said, which is why she said she had to support it in any way she could.

"The same way as when we heard about your story, and you just wanting to wear your hair, the way you want, at school," she said. "And all this scrutiny that you faced and how unwavering you have been in standing up for yourself. We also knew that we had to get involved."

Union's husband, retired NBA star Dwyane Wade, also addressed Arnold in the video, saying he and his wife are "big fans" of the teen.

Wade said Arnold and his mother, Sandy Arnold, would have all expenses paid for a trip to Los Angeles to attend the 2020 Academy Awards on Feb. 9. Wade also said the Dove company would give Arnold and his mother "the red carpet treatment," pay for their Oscar tickets and "provide full wardrobe and glam for the big night," which the soap brand's representative confirmed.

Matthew Cherry, the director of "Hair Love," closed out the video.

"DeAndre, you’re such a good kid and we’ve all been so inspired by your story and this is the very least we can do for you for standing up for yourself and for your right to wear your natural hair at school," Cherry, a former NFL player, said. "We look forward to seeing you next weekend and keep up the good work. I look forward to meeting you."

The team members behind "Hair Love" are the latest celebrities to express support for Arnold. Ellen DeGeneres and Alicia Keys surprised the teen with a $20,000 scholarship toward his college tuition on an episode of "The Ellen Show" that aired Wednesday.

Union, a former judge on "America's Got Talent," has been a vocal supporter of natural hair. After her ouster from the show came to light in November, Variety reported that she raised allegations of sexist and racially insensitive behavior on set that included among other things, her being repeatedly told that her hairstyles were "too black" and "a white male performer crossing a line in portraying people of color." Producers allowed the performance to proceed but it was later cut from the episode, Variety said.

The following month, Union had a five-hour meeting with NBC executives that she later said was "productive." NBC said that there would be a “further investigation to get a deeper understanding of the facts,” and that it was working with Union “to come to a positive resolution.” The network said last week that it is "still investigating" Union's claims, and will "put new practices into place if necessary," the "Today" show reported.

Arnold, the teen invited by Union to the Oscars, has said his dreadlocks are part of his culture and heritage.

"It's really important to me because my dad is from Trinidad," he told DeGeneres. "And I really wish the school would kind of be open to other cultures and just, at least let us try to tell you some things. Don't just shut us out."

He said that he has had dreadlocks for several years and ties them up at school to be in compliance with the dress code. It only recently became an issue at his high school, he and his mother have said.

The school's dress code currently stipulates "hair must be clean and well groomed" and not extend on male students, at any time, below the eyebrows, the ear lobes or the top of a T-shirt collar — including when let down.

Barbers Hill High School has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Jami Navarre, spokeswoman for the Barbers Hill Independent School District, declined an interview request this week and said the district would not be commenting further on the matter. She pointed NBC News to a statement the district released last week saying that the high school permits dreadlocks, but does not allow "any action that circumvents or violates the provision regarding hair length."

"The student in question was NEVER forbidden from attending school," the statement said. "The U.S. Constitution allows a school board the right to implement local community expectations, and Barbers Hill ISD’s continual academic and extra-curricular successes are a direct result of our communities’ high expectations."