Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Symposium honors 20th anniversary of 'Watermelon Woman'


Filmmaker Cheryl Dunye
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A two-day symposium honoring the 20th anniversary of Cheryl Dunye's groundbreaking film, The Watermelon Woman – the first feature film directed by and starring a black lesbian – will be held September 23-24 at San Francisco State University.

The symposium includes film screenings, panels, performances, readings, and art. It is free and open to the public, with an optional $25 VIP reception Saturday evening.

Dunye's film, originally released in 1996 and restored and rereleased earlier this year (see:, was "a watershed moment for black cinema, feminist cinema, lesbian cinema, and new queer cinema," according to Darius Bost, the symposium organizer. In the symposium announcement, Bost, assistant professor of sexuality studies at SFSU, said the film "garnered widespread critical acclaim and its success inspired many black lesbians to create their own films."

Bost and Dunye are faculty colleagues at SFSU, where Dunye is a professor in the school of cinema.

In a telephone interview with the Bay Area Reporter , Dunye said she hopes the symposium will bring together academics and filmmakers together "to show how the film has influenced people." The symposium, she said, "will be an opportunity to have that conversation."

Dunye emphasized that although she is the "topic of the symposium," she left the organizing to others. Dunye will give an opening keynote but, she said, "otherwise, I'm there to listen and celebrate," she said.

"I want to hear about the new ideas so I can keep fresh and keep connecting," she added.

Dunye's 2014 release, Black is Blue , a narrative short film that follows the life of a black transgender man in Oakland, will be made into a feature length movie next year, she said.

In the program notes, Bost wrote, "Dunye continues to break ground through complex filmic representations of the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality." The conference honor's Dunye's "growing body of work, as well as her cultural legacy," he added.

The symposium, he said, "seeks to redirect our attention to the archives that we might claim under the multiply determined, overlapping, and sometimes competing identity categories of black, feminist, lesbian, queer, and transgender."

"While the celebration of the 20th anniversary of this film marks the increasing institutionality of black queer cultural production and black queer studies in the academy, queer of color scholars have voiced an increased aversion to the institutionalization and affirmation of cultural difference," he wrote.

This symposium "is both a moment of celebration and introspection: we seek presentations by scholars who draw on the interdisciplinary fields of feminist, lesbian, queer, and trans studies in their critical approaches to black cultural production, but who also will engage the tensions and contradictions that bind these approaches together."

"This symposium is especially salient in the context of contemporary social movements like Black Lives Matter, which has emerged as a queer and feminist led organization; yet questions still emerge about the need to address the particularity of black lives, as evidenced in campaigns like #SayHerName and #BlackTransLivesMatter," the program said.

The program opens Friday afternoon with a black, feminist, queer and transgender film festival. Eight short films will be screened, as well as the restored version of Watermelon Woman. A panel follows the screening.

The Saturday program includes panels, a performance by Brian Freeman of Pomo Afro Homos; a reading by Jewelle Gomez, author of The Gilda Stories, which marks its 25th anniversary this year; and a conversation with filmmaker Dee Rees.

SFSU is located at 1600 Holloway Avenue. More information about the symposium is available at


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