2013. Video, color, sound, 6:20 min. Courtesy of Cheryl Dunye. Produced by Barry Swimar and Alexandra Juhasz. Distributed in the U.S. by First Run Features.
Dunye’s debut feature, a mockumentary, follows Cheryl, a young black lesbian working a day job in a Philadelphia video store, played by herself, as she struggles to make a video-documentary about a beautiful black 1930s film actress, Fae Richards, credited in films only as “the Watermelon Woman” and known for the stereotypical “mammy” roles relegated to black actresses during that period. The film explores issues of cultural history, invisibility, and marginalization, and features many notables from the lesbian and gay community, including Guin Turner, Sarah Schulman, and Camille Paglia. The film includes fake archival footage and the photographic Fae Richards Archive, documenting the fictional actress’ life, the latter comprised of 78 images created by New York City-based photographer Zoe Leonard. For the exhibition, director Cheryl Dunye has produced a recut focusing on the Fae Richards story.
Cheryl Dunye is an award-winning film director, whose work often is concerned with politics of race, sexuality, gender and in particular the experiences of black lesbians in America. A native of Liberia, Dunye holds an MFA from Rutgers University and is presently based in Oakland, where she is an Associate Professor of Film at California College of the Arts. Dunye’s debut film, The Watermelon Woman, the first feature film directed by a black lesbian, was awarded the Teddy Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1997. Her second feature, HBO Films’ Stranger Inside, garnered her an Independent Spirit award nomination for best director. Her third feature film, Miramax’s My Baby’s Daddy, was a U.S. box office success. Her fourth feature film, The Owls, was celebrated at national and international film festivals in 2010. Cheryl Dunye has been honored with a Community Vision Award from the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), awarded a Creative Excellence Award from Women in Film and Television, and was issued a Fusion Award from Outfest and was selected as one of POWER UP’s 2008 Top-10 Powerful Women In Showbiz.