Tag Archives: Chasing Fae

The Invention of Cheryl Dunye

[Notes on The Watermelon Woman by Cheryl Dunye, USA 1995]

One can divide cinema audience in two categories of people: Those who leave a screening before the closing credits and those who devour them until the lights are turned on again. Closing credits represent the same for lonely cinephiles as footnotes for unfulfilled scholars: the last attempt to prolong pleasure that is about to end. In the theater, the final applause allows space for the actors to break the fourth wall and to face their audience as actors. In cinema, the transition from emotionally compelling action to the factual listing of cast and crew members is less glamorous, nonetheless, it performs the same function – by marking a presumable shift from illusion to reality.

In The Watermelon Woman, the decisive encounters occur precisely in the space of the closing credits – both inside and outside of the film’s narrative. This is not a coincidence – since closing titles and the film’s subject matter share the same marginalized position within the hierarchy of film history. In The Watermelon Woman, the closing titles occupy the center of its narrative; they represent on many levels the ultimate void within its matryoshka doll like structure.

The film’s storyline centers on the life and work of Cheryl (performed by Cheryl Dunye herself), a young Black lesbian working a day job in a video store while trying to make a film about “The Watermelon Woman” – a woman named Fae Richards, who played stereotypical “mammy” roles …

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