The Watermelon Woman

DIRECTOR: Cheryl Dunye

Expected guests: director Cheryl Dunye, producer Alex Juhasz

The ever-charming African American writer/director/actor Cheryl Dunye stars as an aspiring documentary filmmaker researching the life of an obscure black Hollywood actress from the 1930s (“The Watermelon Woman”). In her singular “Dunye-mentary” style, Dunye interweaves direct-to-camera storytelling and faux-documentary with a smartly observed fictional tale of lesbian life and love in contemporary Philadelphia. The film co-stars the fabulously sexy Guinevere Turner (Go Fish, The L Word) as Dunye’s sassy love interest. The Watermelon Woman achieves a genre-bending mix of humor, romantic chemistry, artistic depth and socio-political analysis — exploring race, sexuality and history in one fell swoop and featuring an amazing cast that also includes appearances by: Camille Paglia, Sarah Schulman, Brian Freeman, Cheryl Clarke and Toshi Reagon!

An early recipient of a Frameline Completion Fund grant, The Watermelon Woman took home the Teddy Award for Best LGBT Film at the 1996 Berlin Film Festival before going on to become the first African American lesbian feature to be theatrically released in the U.S. (and it retained the distinction of being the ONLY one until just this past year, when Pariah was released by Focus Features). Like another pioneering African American queer cinema landmark before it (1990’s Tongues Untied), The Watermelon Woman had the distinction of being debated in Congress (and earning the special disdain of Senator Jesse Helms) when right-wing conservatives objected to the fact that it had received funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Fifteen years later, it remains an innovative landmark film—in addition to being a tremendously fun lesbian movie!

— JENNI OLSON


Co-presented by:
Brown Boi Project

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