Film Review: The Watermelon Woman

Directed and written by Cheryl Dunye

The story is accomplished with few subtleties but it is done with such heart, you can’t help but fall in love. Prepare to go on a journey to unearth the unknown “Watermelon Woman.” A fictional 1930’s black actress who captures the inspiration of aspiring black film-maker Cheryl.

Cheryl is an endearing protagonist who is creating a documentary as much for herself as to kickstart her career. She is hopeful, passionate and her documentary offers us genuine yet opposing perspectives; including her own. From small unassured seeds to emerging as a “black lesbian film-maker” Cheryl does not focus on the struggle. She sees “hope, inspiration, possibility and history.” She sees a bright future. And through her film narrative a tale of identity and empowerment is uncovered.

Written, directed and starring Cheryl Dunye, this unpolished film navigates the white hetro-normal worlds of the 30’s and the 90’s with finesse. The style works well, marrying the different qualities of video and filming. It looks at female friendship and homosexual relationships from a human perspective that is both beautifully depicted and refreshing. It is not sensualized. It is genuine. And funny. Very funny. Allowing the audience to meet so many brilliant characters and be privy to an array of candid moments. But also at times hard-hitting perspectives. Whether it be a white lesbian telling Cheryl that the white and black lesbian history archives are “very separate”, or a black woman questioning the inclusion of a white woman in a documentary about the life of her black friend. Filled with these believable fragments of prejudice that can unsettle the viewer, alongside a heartfelt story that resonates with truth and humor. This is why “The Watermelon Woman” is such an important film.

© Kirsty Blewett 2019

To rediscover The Watermelon Woman in a new 20th Century Edition visit Peccadillo Pictures’ website. 

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