Beginning Thursday, November 10, Metrograph in New York City will present a one-week revival run, November 10 to 17, of Cheryl Dunye’s The Watermelon Woman, a queer cult classic in a new restoration.
Set in Philadelphia, The Watermelon Woman is the story of Cheryl (Cheryl Dunye), a twenty-something 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 Fae Richards’ life, Cheryl experiences a total upheaval in her personal life. Her love affair with Diana (Guinevere Turner, Go Fish), a beautiful white woman, and her interactions with the gay and black communities, are subject to the comic yet biting criticism of her best friend Tamara (Valerie Walker). Meanwhile, each answer Cheryl discovers about the Watermelon Woman evokes a flurry of new questions about herself and her future.
The Watermelon Woman is being re-released for its 20th Anniversary, with a pristine 2K HD restoration made possible by 13th Gen, Outfest Legacy Project, UCLA Film & Television Archive, Toronto International Film Festival, and First Run Features.
Cheryl Dunye emerged as part of the 1990’s “queer new wave” of young film and video makers. Dunye’s work is defined by her distinctive narrative voice. Often set within a personal or domestic context, her stories foreground issues of race, sexuality and identity. Dunye’s narratives are peppered with deconstructive elements with characters directly addressing the camera and making ironic references to the production itself. The effect of these devices, and of Dunye’s appearance in her films and tapes “as herself,” is to blur the distinctions between fiction and “real life.”
Dunye has made over 15 films including Mommy Is Coming, The Owls, My Baby’s Daddy and HBO’s Stranger Inside, which garnered her an Independent Spirit award nomination for best director. Her debut film, The Watermelon Woman, was awarded the Teddy at the Berlinale in 1996 and was recently restored by Outfest’s UCLA Legacy Project for the films’ 20th anniversary. Dunye has received numerous awards and honors for her work including a 2016 Guggenheim Fellowship. She is also a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Presently Dunye is a Professor in the School of Cinema at San Francisco State University and is at work on her next feature film Black Is Blue.