The Watermelon Woman

Ambitious writer/director Cheryl Dunye sets out to conquer new territory for lesbian and black filmmakers, but finds herself straddling an uncomfortable fence: At the same time she quibbles with identity politics, she relies heavily on them for subject matter and shock value. Twentysomething video store clerk Cheryl (Dunye) really wants to direct, and uses...read more

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Ambitious writer/director Cheryl Dunye sets out to conquer new territory for lesbian and black filmmakers, but finds herself straddling an uncomfortable fence: At the same time she quibbles with identity politics, she relies heavily on them for subject matter and

shock value. Twentysomething video store clerk Cheryl (Dunye) really wants to direct, and uses her job to explore hidden areas of cinema history. Working her way through obscure old movies, she comes across silent-era actress Fae Richards, the "Watermelon Woman." The shock of recognition

is so great that Cheryl embarks on a quest to unearth this woman's professional and personal life, buried by the passage of time and the prejudices of her age. Rendered in a playful mockumentary form and featuring both archival footage and photographs created expressly for the movie, Dunye

wills a black, lesbian cinematic history into existence. But while the enterprise is provocative, its impact is dulled by Dunye's clumsy handling of numerous subplots, including Cheryl's relationship with the rich, white (read: heavily entitled) Diana (Guinevere Turner). Tamara (Valarie

Walker) -- Cheryl's friend, coworker and fellow lesbian -- is saddled with the responsibility of questioning the viability of a relationship between a poor black filmmaker and a rich white dilettante, as well as Cheryl's dreams of becoming a filmmaker. Although it contains funny moments, the

deliberately disjointed whole is too cute for its own good.

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  • Released: 1996
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Ambitious writer/director Cheryl Dunye sets out to conquer new territory for lesbian and black filmmakers, but finds herself straddling an uncomfortable fence: At the same time she quibbles with identity politics, she relies heavily on them for subject mat… (more)

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