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Cheryl Dunye

Submitted by: Tribeca Film Institute

Cheryl Dunye

Cheryl Dunye is a native of Liberia, and holds an MFA from Rutgers University. Her fourth feature film, The Owls (pictured above), was celebrated at national and international film festivals in 2010. Her third feature film, Miramax’s My Baby's Daddy, was a U.S. box office success. Her second feature, HBO Films' Stranger Inside, garnered her an Independent Spirit award nomination for best director. Dunye’s debut film, The Watermelon Woman, was awarded the Teddy Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1997. Her other works have premiered at film festivals and museums worldwide. Dunye has received numerous awards and honors for her work. Presently based in Oakland, Dunye is an Associate Professor of Film at California College of the Arts.

Upcoming Project

(Per)mission (Development, 2014)

(Per)mission is filmformance/interdisciplinary piece illuminating the personal and political scenarios (past, present, future) of Cheryl, a 40 something black butch feminist artist defining herself in a pluralist society where language and emotions conflict with her authentic visibility. This 90 minute piece will be staged in a museum like archive where audience member become participants and collaborators inthe final outcome of the project. The core of (Per)mission explores Cheryl’s transformation from all things intellectual to all things bodily detailing what is performed on her body and that which her body asserts. Through the creation of an archive of lived experience ranging from experimental film vignettes and talking heads film clips from prior works (The Watermelon Woman, The Owls, etc), Cheryl invites audience members to investigate the ghost images and stereotypes that have shaped her fractured and multilayered identity. The archive (physical and imagined) in (Per)mission is the location where Cheryl’s spoken word/performance scenarios occur. These range from her birth in Africa, to a near death childbirth experience, to her exploration into BDSM sex world as a black butch and each will function as a transmission of her fragmented and reassembled body. (Per)mission also includes direct address, non-temporal sequencing, cartoonish sets, drag, camp, and, most notably, a postmodern performance of “self.” All discoveries will no doubt provide conflicting answers for Cheryl while empowering her with a greater sense of selfhood and place in the world today.

One of the key structural elements of (Per)mission is a new media/transmedia. This component allows for the exploration of the intersetions of race/sexuality in my life as a queer artist of color. It incorporates excerpts from past works and new film clips—uploaded to a browser—embedded in the physical space of the theater for audiences to access on mobile devices. This creates a space for engagement with a participatory artwork where meaning is elaborated collectively rather than in the space of individual consumption. It foregrounds performativity in a digital world placing my body on stage as a conduit for my lost/remembered identity politics.


The Watermelon Woman (1997)

Produced by Barry Swimar (Paris is Burning) and Alexandra Juhasz, Dunye's debut feature follows Cheryl, played by herself, as she struggles to make a video-documentary about a beautiful 1930's film actress popularly know as "the Watermelon Woman." The idea came from the lack of information on lesbian/film history of African-American women. The film features many notables from the lesbian and gay community including: Guin Turner (Go Fish), Sarah Schulman, Camille Paglia and highlights the photography of Zoe Leonard.

Dunye will use excerpts and unseen talking head footage from The Watermelon Woman in (Per)mission.

The Owls (2010)

A funny, mysterious and humane generational anthem starring some of the most popular underground artists in Lesbian Cinema. Now, approaching middle age, the revolution has eluded their dreams. Caught between a culture that still has no place for them, and a younger generation indifferent to their contributions, the OWLs face an emotionally complex set of circumstances that have yet to be compassionately and truthfully addressed.

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