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Lesbian filmmaker Cheryl Dunye courting Chicago on V-Day
by Sarah Toce
2014-02-12

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Cheryl Dunye has mastered the art of storytelling in a multitude of viewpoints pertaining to the Queer spectrum as it pertains to the African-American lifestyle within the rainbow. Dunye received her BA from Temple University and her MFA from Rutgers University's Mason Gross School of the Arts, but it was the school of life that most impacted the Liberia native.

Self-dubbed "director, screenwriter, filmmaker, creative consultant, and educator," Dunye is taking her talk to the streets of Chicago this Valentine's Day to tell her stories of love, loss, discovery and redemption. She participated in an email Q&A with Windy City Times.

Windy City Times: The Watermelon Woman is historically noted as being the first African-American lesbian feature film, and you wrote, directed and starred in it. What was the best part of that experience for you as a filmmaker and visionary?

Cheryl Dunye: For me, the best was and continues to be my ability to build community with my work: from cast to crew to audience.

WCT: There appeared to be a fair amount of investigative reporting on your part in The Watermelon Woman. Why was this real-life story so intriguing to you?

Cheryl Dunye: I am intrigued by the courage and resilience in the lives of marginalized people, in particular women of color. It was important to bring Fae's life to light so that folks could see, connect and empower themselves by knowing that their existence has value.

WCT: In addition to The Watermelon Woman, you've helmed Stranger Inside, The Owl and Mommy is Coming. What messages do you hope the audience will leave with when they walk out of the theater after seeing your films?

Cheryl Dunye: I want audiences to be intrigued, entertained and become better informed about the world. More importantly, I want them to become change agents in their lives and the lives of others. Life is to short not to.

WCT: Is there a specific Chicago-based audience "feel" when you showcase your work in the Windy City?

Cheryl Dunye: I guess it's a Windy City "We love and support your work and come back again" that I hope to receive on my visit.

WCT: What are you most looking forward to with your visit to Chicago in February?

Cheryl Dunye: Investors and collaborators for future projects [will be there]. I am in development on a new feature, launching a screenwriting contest, and have started a nonprofit media think tank called CLEVER.

WCT: Are there parts of Black lesbian life that have not been relayed on film yet that you hope to showcase?

Cheryl Dunye: I can't answer this question.

WCT: Why do you feel it is it taking so long to tell the collective stories we all live as a community? Is it lack of interest, lack of funding?

Cheryl Dunye: Both. But it looks like folks have turned their creative energies to collectively work it out on the small screen by creating web series, YouTube [videos], and a host of other new media storytelling programs and applications.

WCT: You currently serve on the board of directors for the Queer Cultural Center ( QCC ). Can you tell us a little bit about this community resource?

Cheryl Dunye: The QCC continues to be a huge support for both emerging and established Queer artists through our skill building workshops and community based events, which includes the National Queer Arts Festival, a month-long festival of queer arts every June. This year we are looking for work about the body. Check it out. It has been around since 1993 and keeps getting bigger and better every year.

WCT: Who/what aided you most in your own personal coming-out moments?

Cheryl Dunye: When I came out, I was living in Philly at the time. I had no one to turn to in my personal circle so I looked in the phone book and called the L/G hotline. They told me about a weekly youth group meeting. The rest in history ... or herstory.

WCT: What advice might you relay to young LGBT filmmakers of color?

Cheryl Dunye: Don't hesitate—create. Put your work out in the world. We need it.

Catch Cheryl Dunye on Thursday, Feb. 13, 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. at Gallery 400 ( Lecture Room, 400 S. Peoria St. ) and on Friday, Feb. 14, beginning at 7 p.m. at Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted St., with discussion following.


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