The Historical Significance of Black Queer Films
September 2, 2019 11:48 AM   Subscribe

[These films] centered the experiences of Black queer people not only to communicate how Black LGBT folks endured further marginalization within Black communities because of their queerness but also to interrogate the ways that the conflation of queerness and whiteness attempted to exclude Black queers from the bonds and protection of community. [African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS)]

The Watermelon Woman (1996), d. Cheryl Dunye - The first feature film directed by a queer black woman
[Watch now for free on Kanopy by using your local public library card or university login]
From the AAIHS article:
Black lesbian filmmaker Cheryl Dunye presents the audience with a film about a fictional documentary that is being created by a Black lesbian filmmaker of her same name. Throughout the documentary, the character Cheryl conducts archival research, personal interviews, and film analyses in hopes of uncovering the (fictional) life of the “Watermelon Woman” also known as Faye Richards. Cheryl is friends with another Black lesbian woman, Tamara, with whom she works in a movie store. During the film, Dunye chooses to showcase a variance in embodied Blackness by allowing some points of contention to manifest between Cheryl and Tamara – one of these resulting from Cheryl’s choice to date a white woman. This particular storyline within the film draws out and critiques essentialized notions of Blackness which suggests that Black folks who choose to date white people are betraying their own Blackness and the broader Black community. In a conversation following a double date, Cheryl and Tamara have an argument in which Tamara interrogates Cheryl’s obsession with “white girls who want to be Black,” and closes with, “what’s up with that Cheryl, you don’t like the color of your skin nowadays?” Cheryl responds to Tamara asking, “Who’s to say that dating someone white means I don’t wanna be Black.” This extended engagement calls into questions the perpetuation of essentialist demarcations of community even within what Patricia Hill-Collins refers to as “subpopulations.” Through this conversation, Dunye asserts that not only is there no one way to be Black, but there is also no one way to be a Black queer, echoing E. Patrick Johnson’s reflections on Black Is, Black Ain’t: “when African Americans attempt to define what it means to be black, they delimit the possibilities of what blackness can be.”
Black Is, Black Ain't (1995), d. Marlon Riggs
[Watch now for free on Kanopy by using your local public library card or university login]
From the AAIHS article:
Marlon Riggs interrogates the perpetuation of monolithic understandings of blackness within Black communities that delimit the possibilities of how blackness can be embodied. Throughout the film, Riggs engages Black intellectuals, thinkers, and artists, who experienced ostracization due to demarcations of queerness as beyond the boundaries of blackness. At the outset of the film, Riggs presents gumbo as a metaphor for the variance in embodied and experiential Blackness. This vision of blackness as a complex and non-uniform stew sets up his challenge to the absurdity of Black essentialism and the marginalization of Black LGBT folks, which are the subjects of the rest of the documentary. Barbara Smith’s and Essex Hemphill’s commentary along with “Portrait of Jason” performed by poet Cheryl Clarke, illuminate how Blackness was often equated with maleness and heterosexuality in the context of the “narrow nationalism” Davis’s essay described. Hemphill speaks, along with Smith, about how his queerness was used in an attempt to negate his Blackness and how homosexuality was seen as “the final break in Black masculinity.” Like Davis, Riggs connects the violence of narrow nationalism to the erasure of the significant contributions of queers in the context of the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Specifically, he draws attention to Bayard Rustin, who was responsible for the organization of the March on Washington in 1963. Riggs uses Rustin’s marginality in his own era and his suppression in popular memory as an indicator of how heteronormative Black political ideology preserved conservative constructions of Blackness that helped to entrench white supremacy as well as sexism and heteronormativity.
More on queer POC cinema and TV:

17 Essential Black Queer Films [The Advocate]

Films by, for, or about queer people of color* [University of Arizona's Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning Affairs]
*List is not intended to be a full and complete listing

'So often we get pigeonholed': how queer women of color found their voices online | In two new web series, Brown Girls and 195 Lewis, writers and film-makers explore nuances of sexuality and identity often ignored by mainstream media [The Guardian]

10 Films I Love About Queer Woman of Color [Bitch Magazine]


7 Little-Known South Asian Queer Films to Showcase for Pride Month & Beyond [Brown Girl Magazine]

These 6 Horror Films Featuring Queer People of Color Are Scary (and Often Problematic) [Hornet]

Metafilter FanFare page for Paris is Burning (1990) [Wikipedia] [Netflix Streaming] (Also, previously.)

Metafilter FanFare page for Pose (2018 - ) [Wikipedia] [Where To Stream]
posted by nightrecordings (7 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
The Watermelon Woman also has Bryn Mawr jokes, and the best/worst karaoke of Minnie Ripperton ever.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 12:06 PM on September 2, 2019

Thank you for this amazing compilation. I will be working my way through it this week!
posted by eggs at 1:10 PM on September 2, 2019

I’m working on a doc series and Cheryl Dunye is directing an episode.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:53 PM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Thanks for making this post! I can't wait to dig in.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 7:28 PM on September 2, 2019

Didn’t see Stephen Winter’s 1997 feature Chocolate Babies in the linked articles. It can be viewed free on the filmmaker’s Vimeo.
posted by larrybob at 10:12 PM on September 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Flagged as fantastic! Thanks so much for sharing this.
posted by xingcat at 5:49 AM on September 3, 2019

Pariah is so good and extremely overlooked in comparison to Moonlight. Watch both!
posted by yueliang at 8:34 PM on September 3, 2019

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