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The Watermelon Woman

by Yessica Garcia Hernandez

Cheryl, an African American Lesbian filmmaker, becomes obsessed with the watermelon woman, who is not acknowledged as an actress because of her race and sexuality. As Cheryl discovers her similarities with the watermelon woman, she becomes obsessed with finding out Faye, the watermelon woman, and her director, Martha, relationship. Cheryl meets Diana, who is white like Martha, and forms a sexual attraction towards one another. Cheryl’s invitation to dinner, in attempt to find out more about Faye and Martha’s relationship off camera, leads to something more intimate with Diana. The scene begins with Diana initiating her attraction towards Cheryl with a kiss. Before Diana and Cheryl have sex, we see Faye’s film playing in the background. Panned to the TV, where Faye’s sister, who is trying to be white, is arguing how poor she is, living on the streets, and questions why she can’t be happy “fitting into their world” and blames god for making her the color she is.
The importance of Cheryl Dunye’s double scene, among the characters and TV personas, demonstrates the similarities between the Faye Richards and Faye’s sister with herself. This will allow the viewers to reflect upon the racial stereotypes we always hear and see in films as we analyze the relationships between the characters shown. First, Cheryl Dunye’s agency to casts herself in her own film, as an African American lesbian, explicitly depicts the issues of race and sexuality. We learn that Diana is your modern American woman, who claims to follow liberal ideologies with her spark of interest in Cheryl. Aroused by Diana’s directness, Cheryl replicates her interest as well and it leads to their first kiss. We see how Diana has this dominate role when it comes to her and Cheryl. Not only is she the one always initiating, Cheryl falls for actions every time. She becomes submissive towards Diana. Most importantly, Dunye’s focus on this scene is reflected upon the closing shot of the film on the TV, where Cheryl draws a connection with both characters; Faye who stands up for her rights as an African American woman but also the sister, who is trying to be white. Cheryl isn’t physically trying to look white but her actions allow the audience to accuse Cheryl of being white because she’s making a documentary and dating a white woman.
Throughout the scene, we see more of Diana’s sexual desire for Cheryl. Her taking initiative and charge of sex allows viewers to assume that this relationship could be purely sexual, which is later discovered that all of Diana’s previous relationships were black. Not only did their relationship develop in short period of time, but also we can see the lack of passion they have for each other. Despite their sexual interactions with each other, we can observe both of their obsessions: Cheryl’s obsession with Faye and Martha’s relationship and Diana fetish with being in an interracial relationship. Cheryl finds Faye and Martha’s relationship similar to hers. Martha and Diana living a privileged life, where we see Diana having the connections and an eased life, while Faye and Cheryl unacknowledged as black actresses/filmmakers, especially as being lesbian, struggle to be recognized in the industry. It’s uncommon seeing black and lesbians in film, which makes this film significant as Cheryl unfolds the difficulty of being recognized and accepted in a society that once, historically, relied on a race hierarchy and sexuality. The idea of African American lesbians in filmography, more specifically pornography, became such a controversial subject since the 1930s because it illustrates three categories that are portrayed as disadvantages in society, formerly known to be from their race – African American, identity – women, and their sexuality – lesbian.

The Watermelon Woman: Sexual Tension

After Cheryl and Diana’s dinner date, they watch the Watermelon Woman’s film. Cheryl critics the film as Diana tries to become sexually intimate with Cheryl, which leads to a relationship Cheryl didn’t expect.

from The Watermelon Woman (1996)
Creator: Cheryl Dunye
Distributor: First Run Features
Posted by Yessica Garcia Hernandez
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