Friday, June 26, 2020
Nate Hood's Quarantine Qapsule #81 The Watermelon Woman  ★★★½
Consider her 1996 movie The Watermelon Woman. Inspired by Dunye’s real-life research on black actresses in the early Hollywood studio system, the film follows a fictionalized Dunye’s attempt to discover information on “The Watermelon Woman,” an unnamed, uncredited black actress in an old film called Plantation Memories. During her search through archives, interviews, and the nooks and crannies of LGBTQ+ academia (including a visit to the…*ahem*…Center for Lesbian Information and Technology) she discovers that the Watermelon Woman was, in fact, a lesbian and quite possibly Dunye’s dream girl.
Of course, there was no actual Watermelon Woman and neither was there a film called Plantation Memories—both were creations of the real-life Dunye to deliberately expose and interrogate the paucity of black lesbians in film history. But the observations she makes on black film history and the interviews she secures with real-life queer artists and academics are very real, forcing us to ask where the fiction begins and ends. This might seem hopelessly dry, but The Watermelon Woman is both hilarious and sexy due to Dunye’s interweaving of her quasi-fictionalized explorations into film history with the hopeless romantic escapades of her cinematic counterpart. It’s groan-inducingly cliched to say, but there’s honestly no other film like it.