This essay explores Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman (1997) in the context of reflexive practice in film. The film has been variously approached as queer cinema, women's autobiographical and documentary cinema, and black cinema; this essay emphasizes how one might add to all of these discussions and explore their interrelations, by looking at the film through a history and analysis of cinematic reflexivity. As a metacinematic work both by and about an African American lesbian director, the film has much to say about the means of its own production and, even further, about the way that cinema “at the margins” has been framed within film studies. First examining the manner in which reflexive work, particularly work that seems to address the loss of authorial control by a film director, has in fact functioned to reinstall the primacy of a dominant subjectivity, the essay then turns to The Watermelon Woman to suggest how reflexivity might be used otherwise. A discussion of the film's reflexive movements illuminates the ways that certain feminist filmmaking practices, though highly influential, are excluded from theoretical discussions on modes of cinematic discourse and maintained instead in a circumscribed arena in which women's film is allowed to speak about women but not about film. More specifically, The Watermelon Woman both presents and represents the negotiations, mediations, and tensions triangulated among dominant film history, white feminist film studies and production, and black film history and production n the United States.
Catherine Zimmer; Histories of The Watermelon Woman: Reflexivity between Race and Gender. Camera Obscura 1 September 2008; 23 (2 (68)): 41–66. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/02705346-2008-002
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