NYWIFT Blog

Trailblazing through the Decades: Cheryl Dunye (1990s)

In honor of Women’s History Month, NYWIFT looks back at some of the remarkable women who have shaped the film, television and digital media industries through the decades.


By Kathryn O’Kane

Twenty years ago a young artist set out to make a documentary about women like herself: black queer filmmakers. She found nothing but homophobia and omission, and then… inspiration.

The resulting film The Watermelon Woman marked Cheryl Dunye’s 1996 debut – a hybrid of autobiography, documentary, and comedy. It defies categorization and was the first feature film directed by an African American lesbian.

With biting humor and a sharp eye towards hidden histories, the film deftly captures the search for identity and how we, in turn, preserve and share history – from the stories told by ourselves, families, and communities, to those produced by Hollywood and culture writ large.

Cheryl-Dunye2

According to Advocate, “the film, which underlined the absence of black queer women in cinema’s history, is even more relevant today, as queer women of color remain deeply underrepresented onscreen. Although we now have icons like Lena Waithe to look up to, we must show our gratitude to Dunye, whose work has paved the way for Waithe’s creative excellence.”

The Watermelon Woman is still regularly screened around the country. The Watermelon Woman and two other films of Cheryl Dunye are being shown at the second annual Feminist Film Week  at the Anthology Film Archives this month.

Dunye is currently a director on Ava DuVernay’s OWN series Queen Sugar.

 

PUBLISHED BY

busyk

busyk Kathryn O’Kane is a director and producer with over 20 years of experience in television and advertising. She directed season 2 of the Emmy nominated series The World According to Jeff Goldblum for Disney+. She was the showrunner of the James Beard award-winning Netflix series Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and she produced six seasons of the Emmy award-winning series Friday Night Tykes. Her episodes of Iconoclasts for Sundance and Oprah Presents Masterclass for OWN have won NAACP Imagine awards. Kathryn has crafted short form narratives as diverse as Mission Juno for NASA, segments of AMC’s Talking Dead, and commercial assignments for Apple, Meta, United Airlines, and SAP. Kathryn served two terms on the board of New York Women in Film and Television, championing equal pay, diversity and inclusion, and safety in the workplace. She is a member of the Directors Guild of America and Television Academy. Learn more at www.busyk.com.

View all posts by busyk

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