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The Watermelon Woman (1996)

Cheryl is young, Black, and lesbian, working in Philadelphia with her best friend Tamara and consumed by a film project: to make a video about her search for a Black actress from Philly who... See full summary »



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Credited cast:
Cheryl Dunye ...
Valarie Walker ...
Lisa Marie Bronson ...
Fae 'The Watermelon Woman' Richards
Cheryl Clarke ...
June Walker
Irene Dunye ...
Brian Freeman ...
Lee Edwards
Camille Paglia ...
Sarah Schulman ...
CLIT Archivist
V.S. Brodie ...
Karaoke Singer
Shelley Olivier ...
Annie Heath
Toshi Reagon ...
Street Magician
Video Browser
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Mickey Goldhaber ...
K. Brent Hill ...
J.J. Liberty


Cheryl is young, Black, and lesbian, working in Philadelphia with her best friend Tamara and consumed by a film project: to make a video about her search for a Black actress from Philly who appeared in films in the 30s and was known as the Watermelon Woman. Following various leads, Cheryl discovers the Watermelon Woman's stage name and real name and surmises that the actress had a long affair with Martha Page, a White woman and one of Hollywood's few female directors. As she's discovering these things, Cheryl becomes involved with Diana, who's also White. The affair strains Cheryl's friendship with Tamara. More discoveries bring Cheryl (and us, her audience) to new realizations. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis



Parents Guide:





Release Date:

5 March 1997 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Arbuziarka  »

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Did You Know?


According to writer/director Cheryl Dunye, much about the character she plays in the film is autobiographical, but the historical references to the Watermelon Woman are fictional: "The Watermelon Woman came from the real lack of any information about the lesbian and film history of African-American women. Since it wasn't happening, I invented it." See more »


Cheryl: Hey! Hey, you're Martin Pumphrey!
Street Magician: No ma'am, I'm a magician.
See more »

Crazy Credits

The film, which seems to be a documentary about Cheryl's search for the obscure actress who inspired her, ends with these printed words: "Sometimes you have to create your own history. The Watermelon Woman is fiction. Cheryl Dunye, 1996" See more »


References Gone Harlem (1938) See more »

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User Reviews

Might encourage exclusivism in naive audiences.
26 January 2003 | by (nz) – See all my reviews

A couple of issues provoked my confusion and frustration in this psuedo-doco, film-type disjointed array of small-time scenes. I feel compelled to comment on them here, although they are not, in my experience confined to this particular picture. Primarily this is about the black-white thing, which is a subject I avoid as much as possible, since to me, it isn't something important that should be encouraged at all. Movies like this make it a thing and it, quite frankly, p**ses me off. I thought this was supposed to be about film-making, historical-research, and as a contemporary subordinate, lesbianism. Superficilly these topics may have dominated, underlying them was an extremely strong and all-too repetitive colour issue. Apparently it is a bad thing for white people to prefer black people or vice versa. A reason, implicably, for two people who like each other to get mad and break up. Rhetorically speaking, WHY is this made into a problem? When a girl falls in love with a girl then realises her lover's a lesbian (WHOA) they don't suddenly loath each other on account of woman to woman 'usage'. And Cheryl was the liberal among these mains.

Tamara was too much. The reverse-racism exhbited by this woman makes all historical attempts by the black masses at equality ostentatious, as with womans liberation turning to aggressive feminism. Temporarily, since as an educated, contemporary, liberal brought up in multi-racial society sudden, transient overwhelming provocation of irrational emotion cannot affect mentality. Perhaps 50 years ago... Now, okay, the woman she is researching was subject to colour-prejudice in her time (20's-30's). But this historical aspect was amplified many times over by the young 90's characters. This is the 21st century, we're all just as new to the world as each other, and none of us should be victimised at present because of whatever happened in the past to and by other people. The continuation of past problems is the most pretentious cause of person can hold.

It reads on the back of this tape "containing the most notorious lesbian sex scenes of recent years". Did I see the cut version? Made in 1996 the Watermelon woman that I saw could not compete leso-sex-wise with even the most popular lesbian films made prior in the '90's - It's in the water, Wild side, Butterfly kiss, Female Perversions, Late Bloomers, ... yes, I could go on. Not to mention the complete lack of relationship devlopment (as non/controversial lesbianism) which has been portrayed extremely well on screen since post-silent times.

A former commenter wrote that this was a singular film experience for her of the soft-core interracial lesbian scene. Personally I've never seen any black, lesbian smut, but okay, try checking the non-pornographic sections of a video store. The two most common interracial lesbian films I can think of (The incredibly true adventures of two girls in love and When night is falling) don't even promenade the interracial issue. They're two people, just like two other people. If the colour of someones skin contributes to someones attraction for them, why is that any different than the shape of their smile, or the sway of their personality. So there it is, my one-time appeal to please mellow out about the the entire above subject.

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