A guide to black films, reviews and resources.

Watermelon Woman

Exploring Race in Film:
Watermelon Woman
Takes on Hollywood's Invisible Color Lines
 Laurence Washington


     A controversial, independent film The Watermelon Woman, written, directed by and starring Cheryl Dunye, and produced by Alexandra Juhasz, is now available on video tape.
     The story follows the fictional tale of an aspiring black lesbian filmmaker struggling to collect biographical information for a documentary she's filming about Fea Richards, a 1930s black film actress known as the "The Watermelon Woman."
     The 85-minute wry, witty satirical piece took Dunye and producer Juhasz several weeks to shoot on a shoestring budget. The film blends autobiographical, fictional and documentary material about the invisibility of blacks in the Hollywood system. Only a handful of black directors such as Spike Lee, Bill Duke and Antoine Fuqua have managed to cross Hollywood's invisible color line.
     Producer Alexandra Juhasz, New York University graduate, has produced more than 15 educational documentaries about women's issues. She said that small-budget films are about ideas and characters.
     "You go to see these films, because you're interested in seeing people who are thinking and experiencing things," Juhasz, 33, said. "Our film is about history, and what it's like to be an African American in a society where you do not have access to that history and what it means to try and remake that."
     Dunye, 31, like her "Watermelon" character, shopped her film around until finally finding a distributor who has been able to get it into festivals and art houses for the past two years.
     Dunye earned a master's degree from Rutgers University, and says her visual arts degree has given her a sense of storytelling on a deeper level than just plain writing and directing. Dunye feels her genre of film has more at stake, and that something significant is being said.
     Dunye was born in Liberia and grew up in Philadelphia. She said the story is also about her love for Philly and its history. Having an African father and a mother from Philly left a strong impression that's reflected in her filmmaking.
     "This is my first feature film," Dunye said. "I had been making shorter work on video since 1990. But this time, I'm telling a longer story, working it out in a feature format."
     Dunye said her work always has carried a very personal biographical edge.
     " The Watermelon Woman  is sort of like the full-blown Cheryl," Dunye said.
"And what you've gotten before were just little bits and pieces."