Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2018-03-21
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



MOVIES 'Watermelon Woman' celebrates 20 years with re-release
by Charlsie Dewey

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

It's been 20 years since filmmaker Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman debuted to audiences across the country and brought one of the first depictions of Black lesbian identity to movie screens.

The Watermelon Woman was Dunye's first feature film, and it was the first feature film that a Black lesbian made.

The film tells the story of Cheryl ( Dunye ), a twentysomething Black lesbian struggling to make a documentary about Fae Richards, a beautiful and elusive 1930s Black film actress popularly known as "The Watermelon Woman."

While uncovering the meaning of Richards' life, Cheryl experiences a total upheaval in her own life. Her love affair with Diana ( Guinevere Turner, of Go Fish fame ), a beautiful white woman, and her interactions with the gay and Black communities are subject to the criticism from her best friend, Tamara ( Valerie Walker ).

At its release in 1997, The Watermelon Woman brought excitement that the Black lesbian identity was finally being examined in filmmaking.

The film was part of a wave of movies being that LGBT filmmakers made in the early 1990s—dubbed New Queer Cinema—that looked at queer identities outside of a heteronormative lens.

"It was an exciting time, the building up to the making of The Watermelon Woman," Dunye told Windy City Times.

Dunye had made a series of short films prior to The Watermelon Woman, all of which were gaining buzz around New York.

"What it was doing was filling a void," she said. "It was putting a spotlight on an identity that wasn't seen before and definitely needed to be heard."

While New Queer Cinema and The Watermelon Woman brought a lot of promise about what might come next, in many ways little has changed 20 years later, as Black lesbians still rarely see their stories told on movie screens or even small screens.

"In those in-between years, there was less and less funding for any American arts made by the people, for the people, about the people," Dunye said.

One reason might actually be because of the attention The Watermelon Woman received.

The film depicted a lesbian sex scene that one critic said was "the hottest dyke sex scene ever recorded on celluloid." It caught the attention of Rep. Peter Hoekstra ( R-Michigan ), who set about trying to disrupt funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, which had provided Dunye with a $31,500 individual arts grant.

"I think it was the last [individual arts grant] because of the controversy around the arts funding and cultural production. The conversation got very loud in the moment," Dunye said.

She noted that, today, that same conversation is happening with reports that the soon-to-be-announced federal budget will propose cuts to the NEA as well as other arts and cultural funding arms.

"I definitely feel like that sound is back again," she said. "It's quite interesting to see that the culture has not grown, that it's going backwards.

She added, "It is so different when you go abroad. When I show my work at film festivals abroad, there is tons of support for the arts in comparable cultures. … I mean, this year, seeing Spanish or Portuguese filmmakers who are queer from different cities and regions in those countries get tons of support. It's sad, but it's not a surprise at this point."

Dunye said that, without financial support, films like The Watermelon Woman don't get made.

"She added that many of the filmmakers working during the early 1990s, by the end of that decade, also headed to Hollywood, where they were able to work but not necessarily tell the stories in the same vein as that of New Queer Cinema. Many of them focused on cable TV, for instance.

"Once those streams closed down you don't see the work being made and you see people trying to tell their stories in different formats. That's more in my mind what happened," she said. "It just got shifted and, therefore, you don't get as varied of content or no content at all."

Dunye said the LGBT films that do seem to gain support and attract attention today don't take the same risks as the films of the early '90s.

"I mean Pariah, an independent film that got a lot of attention when it came out and found a way to do it, but there's not a lot of stuff that is taking that risk and telling those stories like The Watermelon Woman.

"There are others that are trying to, again, not just make entertainment happen for queer filmmaking, but to make culture in that way like The Watermelon Woman did and talk about something a little bit deeper."

Dunye said despite the lack of momentum in the past two decades, she is hopeful about the future.

"I feel like it's a great time to be making work right now," she said.

She said looking at the Oscar nominees and more mainstream filmmaking of the past year there are changes on the horizon, not just in terms of diversity but how films are being made and told, such as Moonlight and I Am Not Your Negro, which Dunye said is really the most exciting part for her.

"Moonlight is definitely telling a story in a different way, beyond its content and its direction and all those elements, how the team worked together to make it and who the team was, those things are exciting when you look at the whole picture and I feel hopeful."

Dunye is currently working on turning her short Black is Blue, which is on The Watermelon Woman re-release, into a feature film.

"It's an afro-futuristic trans love story set in Oakland, between a Black trans man and a Black trans woman and an AI bot that lives with them and observes their love," she said.

She said the film should be completed in a couple of years.

The Watermelon Woman has been re-released on DVD and on iTunes.

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

SPRING THEATER PREVIEW Gay take on Shakespeare play has Bollywood flair 2018-03-21 - In all of Shakespeare's writings, there's only one un-coded and undeniably gay man. He's Antonio, titular merchant of The Merchant of Venice. Without ...

Gay News

THEATER SPOTLIGHT Bad Girls: The Stylists 2018-03-21 - A quintet of actors play more than two dozen roles in Bad Girls: The Stylists, Astrid Saalbach's dark-to-its-roots comedy about stylists and clientele ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW The Picture of Dorian Gray 2018-03-21 - Playwright Adapted by Paul Edwards, from the novel by Oscar Wilde At: City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: 773-293-3682, ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street 2018-03-21 - Written by: Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler At: No Exit Cafe, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave. Tickets: $39-69 ( higher price includes dinner ). ...

Gay News

THEATER Critics' Picks 2018-03-21 - Schiller's Mary Stuart, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, through April 15. Hailed as a clash of queens—Mary of Scots vs. Elizabeth of England—it's far more ...

Gay News

THEATER REVIEW Hang Man 2018-03-21 - Playwright: Stacy Osei-Kuffour At: Gift Theatre, 4802 N. Milwaukee. Tickets: 773-283-7071;; $30-$40. Runs through: April 29 Whether it's the play itself, ...

Gay News

SPRING THEATER PREVIEW Musicals: Fresh flowers and old chestnuts 2018-03-21 - If quantity is your thing, it's a great spring for musical theater; you'll be up to your ears in singers and dancers. ...

Gay News

SPRING THEATER PREVIEW Premieres reflect global awareness 2018-03-21 - Playwrights and the theaters who showcase them are finally catching up with the times. Audiences looking to shake off the inertia of winter ...

Gay News

SPRING THEATER PREVIEW Debra Barsha gives people 'A Taste of Things to Come' 2018-03-21 - How many musicals out there can boast an all-female cast, creative team, orchestra, and a topic that celebrates intersectional feminist stories with humor ...

Gay News

Andy Senor Jr. talks Gloria Estefan, Cuba, 'On Your Feet' 2018-03-20 - Tony-nominated show On Your Feet is returning to Chicago after a big debut here at the Oriental Theatre in 2015. The story ...


Copyright © 2018 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.








About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.