IFFR KINO #47: The Watermelon Woman (1995)

IFFR KINO #47: The Watermelon Woman (1995)

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For this second instalment of our eighth season of IFFR KINO, the IFFR Young Selectors invite you to embark on a cinematic journey that transcends the boundaries of identity and delves into the profound realms of history and memory. Join us as we dive into the compelling film The Watermelon Woman (1995), a poignant exploration of black and queer identities and their evolving narratives within the film industry. The film will be preceded by a screening of the short film dey Dream, by Mo Futures, KANEA INDIGO & jai (bumi) reeberg. The makers of dey Dream will be present for a discussion following the films.
The Watermelon Woman (1995) was Cheryl Dunye’s debut feature film, a first by an out Black lesbian filmmaker and exemplary of a new cinematic movement and aesthetic that originated in the 90s, known as New Queer Cinema. Directing, writing, editing and starring in the film, Dunye’s characteristic blending of fiction and documentary – which she herself has dubbed ‘Dunyementaries’ – is apparent, as The Watermelon Woman effortlessly moves between a romantic comedy and an investigation into the representation of Black queer women on-screen, sometimes both simultaneously.


Cheryl Dunye
Cheryl Dunye, Guinevere Turner, Valarie Walker
Drama, Comedy, Romance
85 minutes


Cheryl, a young Black lesbian working at a video store in Philadelphia, is an aspiring filmmaker. She’s obsessed with old Hollywood films and in particular with a Black actress credited only as the ‘Watermelon Woman’. She decides to make a documentary about the woman who was known for playing the stereotypical ‘mammy’ roles back in the 1930s. In her research Cheryl discovers the real person behind the Watermelon Woman, Faith Richards, who has more in common with her than she could have anticipated.

At the end of the film we discover Faith Richards never really existed, the ‘archival’ footage in the film was expertly created by photographer Zoe Leonard. Although partially instigated by the film’s limited budget which didn’t allow for real archival footage, the fake footage is also exemplary of lacking archival material of Black actresses in old Hollywood. Faith Richards thus becomes a stand-in, inspired by the likes of Hattie McDaniel and Butterfly McQueen, for all those Black actresses that have been forgotten by history – giving voice to a story that cannot be told otherwise. – Anne Wabeke


© Baris Azman