Professor Dunye is on Front Lines of Black Lesbian Experience

Thursday, June 07, 2018
Photo of Cheryl Dunye

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE -- One of the most authoritative voices heard in the documentary Dykes, Camera, Action! belongs to Cheryl Dunye. The film, playing June 19 at the Frameline42 film festival, examines queer women’s cinema from the 1960s to the present, including interviews with women who were on the front lines of putting lesbian stories on celluloid.

Dunye made cinematic history in 1995 with her debut film, The Watermelon Woman. It was not only the first full-length narrative written and directed by a black lesbian about women like herself, but also the first to feature a black lesbian lead — the part Dunye played. She was among the first documentary filmmakers to mix fiction with fact, done so artfully that the hybrid became known in the trade as “Dunyementary.”

“I was teaching at San Francisco State University in the school for Cinema, but I am on leave for a year now to dig into my own personal filmmaking,” Dunye says. “I am about to leave for a retreat in Mexico to write an adaptation of a novel called The Wonder of All Things by Jason Mott, which I will then direct. It’s about a young black girl living in the South. After a plane crash where her friend is fatally wounded, she finds out she has an ability to heal. ...

“I think communicating with students and having a family allows me to come to storytelling in a very expansive way. So I was able to use my knowledge of film history of black films and queer films and come up with the right hook that the people at Lionsgate wanted to hear from someone adapting this book.”

Photo by Hannah Anderson