The Watermelon Woman

Friday, October 7, 2016 7:00 PM at the Harris Theater

Watermelon Woman Lo-Res

(USA, 1996; 90 minutes)
Director: Cheryl Dunye

After its release in 1996, The Watermelon Woman achieved notoriety when several members of Congress labeled it one of the most, “patently offensive and possibly pornographic” LGBT films funded that year by the National Endowment for the Arts.

It didn’t matter that Cheryl Dunye (the film’s actor, director, producer, screenwriter, and editor) was the first black lesbian ever to make a feature film about queer women of color; Dunye acting in the “shocking” sex scenes with a white woman was what stood out most.

Reel Q revisits this comedy/mockumentary which, two decades after its release, is still considered one of the best films about queer women of color.

In the film, Cheryl begins working on a documentary by researching the life of Fae Richards (Lisa Marie Bronson), an obscure black actress who played “Mammy” roles in “race films” of the 1930s and was known simply as “The Watermelon Woman.”

Dunye learns Richards was a lesbian who was involved with her white female director — something that parallels Dunye’s own affair with Diana (Guinevere Turner of Go Fish). The more she investigates the more she discovers truths about herself in the process and what it means to be a queer woman of color in contemporary America.

Ending with the epigraph: “Sometimes you have to create your own history,” The Watermelon Woman is a charming film that takes its audience on a journey of self-discovery without ever taking itself too seriously.

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