Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye

Artist Zoe Leonard and film maker Cheryl Dunye collaborated to create the Fae Richards archive. The narrative of the archive charts the life of Fae Richards an African American actress born in the early 20th century. She was better known as the watermelon woman, and the archive charts her life up until old age and shows her involvement in the civil right movement.

 The collection consists of family snapshots, photo-booth portraits, glamour shots, stills from movies and captions that tell the story of the forgotten black actress, whose career was ruined by racial typecasting. Not only was her race being used against her but also her sexuality as she was a lesbian, in an age when this was a taboo.

 Cheryl Dunye then used the photographs and their findings to create a film, The Watermelon Woman, which is about an African American lesbian who works in a video rental store who wants to become a film maker, and she becomes interested in a black actress that was only credited as the watermelon woman, and the film follows her discovery of Fae’s life. Cheryl Dunye was the first black lesbian to make a feature film, she won the Teddy Award for best feature film at the Berlin International Film Festival and the Audience Award for outstanding narrative at L.A. Outfest.

 However, Fae Richards was not a real person, she was created and models were used for the photographs, it was all faked by Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye, it might not have been a real person, but the issues were, this is what makes it such a strong collection of work. It wasn’t just made up for the fun of it, it had a purpose, to tell a very truthful story, with a fictional character at the heart of it.

It was made to be so believable, that it’s more of a shock that it isn’t true, because the story is not too outlandish, it’s very honest. It feels like she is real to me, because the artists just used her to get the story out their.


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