In The Watermelon Woman, Cheryl, a fledgling Black lesbian filmmaker played by Dunye herself, sets out to make a documentary about Faith Richardson, a lost cinematic ancestor glimpsed in 1930s race films.
Playfully switching between 16mm film and the glorious, radical and short-lived 1990s grainy videotape aesthetic, Dunye layers slices of everyday life with black-and-white archival bits about Faith.
The Watermelon Woman highlights the systemic erasure of Black, queer creative labour from both collective memory and the archive. It illustrates the importance of films in black culture as a site for representation and creative expression. By focusing on the obscurity of the Watermelon Woman’s mystery, the film also exposes the impact of the stereotypical roles assigned to Black actresses (in this case, the ‘mammy’ figure). Historical and contemporary social issues such as bureaucracy, police violence, and racial profiling of Black youth are also discussed. However, it is refreshing to experience a film about the Black queer experience that does not centre on trauma and violence but exposes the subtle moments in which they appear.