Twenty Years Later, Returning to a Pioneering Black Lesbian Film / Hyperallergic

Guinevere Turner as Diana, Cheryl Dunye as Cheryl (© Dancing Girl Productions)

Guinevere Turner as Diana, Cheryl Dunye as Cheryl (© Dancing Girl Productions)

It’s the 1990s when a young, ambitious filmmaker goes on the hunt for “the Watermelon Woman,” a black actress who played mostly mammy roles in 1930s and ’40s Hollywood films. So goes the plotline for The Watermelon Woman, a movie by Cheryl Dunye, a black, lesbian filmmaker who seems to have named and modeled her main character after herself. Shot in 1996 on a shoestring budget, this film is a masterful blend of documentary style and self-reflexive personal narrative, peppered with sweet stories of friendship and romance. This year’s screening at Outfest Fusion: LGBT People of Color Film Festival also marked the 20-year anniversary of the film, and an archival restoration of it in partnership with 13th Gen and others.

The 1990s were a hot time for identity politics, and arguably more radical queer politics than today’s continued assimilationist politics of gay mainstreamification. In the ’90s, queers weren’t welcome to adhere to cultural norms, dyke bars were still alive and well, and mainstream advertising had no part in a gay “niche” market. Dunye’s film took place in an entirely different queer time and place, yet the relationship entanglements, racial-romantic politics, attempts at renegotiating or creating a history that either doesn’t exist or is buried, and the passion needed to undertake the making of a no- or low-budget film involving one’s friends, lovers, and fellow creatives still feel relevant today.

Read the full story on Hyperallergichttp://hyperallergic.com/281173/twenty-years-later-returning-to-a-pioneering-black-lesbian-film/