On Cheryl Dunye

By Ebony Adams, Manager of Public Programs

…And most importantly, what I understand is that I’m gonna be the one who says, “I am a black, lesbian filmmaker who’s just beginning.” But I’m gonna say a lot more and I have a lot more work to do.

Cheryl, The Watermelon Woman

There’s a fundamental joy and curiosity in the work of Cheryl Dunye; a desire for knowledge and connection that underlies her exploration of, and experiments with film. A Black lesbian filmmaker who burst onto the scene in 1996 with THE WATERMELON WOMAN (although she had several shorts to her credit before then), Dunye has spent the past three decades excavating and creating a Black queer history through words, images, and memory. Despite working steadily over the last decade directing some of the most talked-about episodic television on our screens (“Lovecraft Country,” “Queen Sugar,” “Claws,” “Dear White People,” “All Rise”), Dunye remains a quintessentially indie creator. Her experiments fusing narrative and documentary—what the director calls “dunye-mentaries”—evince a very human desire for relationships and deep love for telling the stories of Black people.

On Tuesday, September 1 at 6:00 p.m. PDT, WIF is delighted to bring you a conversation with this phenomenal artist as part of our monthly Speaker Series. We’ll be talking to Dunye about her extensive and eclectic career, her collaborations with other queer filmmakers, and her mastery of “the language of film” to tell new and vital stories.

Check out some of Cheryl Dunye’s work and immerse yourself in the vision of this incredible talent:

  • THE WATERMELON WOMAN (1996, available on Amazon Prime)
  • BLACK IS BLUE (2014, available to rent on Vimeo)
  • THE POTLUCK AND THE PASSION (1993, available with a Fandor subscription)
  • THE OWLS (2010, available on Amazon Prime)
  • MOMMY IS COMING (2012, available to rent on Amazon)
The WIF Speaker Series is co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood and the West Hollywood Women’s Advisory Board. It is also presented with the support of the City of West Hollywood’s WeHo Arts program. For more information, please visit www.weho.org/arts or follow via social media @WeHoArts.

About Cheryl Dunye

Cheryl Dunye is a world-renowned African-American director, writer, and actor. She first emerged as part of the “Queer New Wave” of young filmmakers in the early 1990s. Her first feature film, THE WATERMELON WOMAN, won the Teddy Award for Best Feature at the 1996 Berlin International Film Festival. The film, now considered a classic, was restored and re-released widely in 2016 for its 20th anniversary, and resides in the permanent cinema collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

Her second feature, HBO’s STRANGER INSIDE, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002 and was nominated for four Independent Spirit Awards including Best Director. In 2004, she directed MY BABY’S DADDY for Miramax, which had a budget of $12M USD. Her more recent independent features THE OWLS (2010) and MOMMY IS COMING (2012) have both screened at top-tier festivals and garnered her a new generation of fans and followers across the globe.

In recent years, Dunye has entered a new wave of her career as a director for episodic television, first by joining Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey for two episodes on season two of OWN’s “Queen Sugar.” In 2019, she served as the Producing Director of “Queen Sugar” season four. Her other episodic directing credits include an incredible array of popular shows: “Claws” for TNT, “The Fosters” for Freeform, “Love Is_” for OWN, “The Chi” for Showtime, “Star” for Fox, “Dear White People” for Netflix, “David Makes Man” for OWN, “Lovecraft Country” for HBO, and “All Rise” for CBS, among others.

In 2015, Dunye’s multiple-award-winning short film BLACK IS BLUE was named one of the top five “Must-See Feminist Films” by IndieWire. It is now being developed into a feature film with Laverne Cox attached to star in the lead. In 2016, Dunye was named a recipient of the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in the field of Filmmaking. That same year she was invited to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). In 2018, it was announced that Dunye would adapt and direct a feature based on Jason Mott’s novel The Wonder of All Things for Lionsgate. In 2019, she launched her Oakland-based production company called WN Films, which is actively developing two episodic series: “The Gilda Stories,” an adaptation of the beloved 1991 queer vampire novel by Jewell Gomez, and “Adventures in the 419,” based on Nigerian scammers.

She is currently represented by Chris Ridenhour and Jack Leighton at APA.