Cinema assistant professor’s films inspired by richness, social justice and injustice in humanity

When new assistant professor of cinema Cheryl Dunye could not find any documentation of African-American lesbians in the history of black cinema, she found inspiration to create an archive of her own.

More than 30 years later, Dunye has made numerous films focusing on different forms of oppression that exist, which she explained as intersectionality to participants of a women and gender studies lecture this Thursday afternoon. Most recently, she won the award for Best Short Film at Frameline, San Francisco’s international LGBT film festival.

“I am very honored and grateful for this award especially since it was one chosen by the audience,” Dunye said. Frameline’s festival audience assumed responsible for selecting the winner of Best Short Film since 1984. Dunye has also been nominated for the Iris Prize Festival for Best LGBT Film in the world.

Her winning film, BLACK IS BLUE, tells the story of a character who transitioned from female to male and runs into a former partner from the past.

Dunye started making films in the late 1980’s as an undergraduate at Temple University in Philadelphia.

“It was the most effective way to ‘out myself in the picture’ in a world where there were little to no images of African-American lesbians,” Dunye responded after being asked why she got into filmmaking.  Dunye added that she is inspired by humanity in all its richness, social justice and injustice.

“My advice is to start small but dream big,” Dunye said. She advises cinema students to surround themselves with the tools to complete a project. “SF State has an abundance of students and faculty to collaborate with and support your work.”

This is Dunye’s first semester teaching at the University and said her favorite part about teaching at SF State is the diverse community. “Everyone is here to exchange knowledge and make some sort of change in the world.”

“The cinema department at SF State has provided me with a lot of inspiration and opportunities,” said cinema student Karly Stark. This is Stark’s second year as a student in the MFA cinema program, focusing on experimental filmmaking. Stark said she has not had the opportunity to be in any of Dunye’s classes, but is working with Dunye as a research assistant.

“I feel so honored to be working with her and it’s amazing to be trusted and valued as a peer on her upcoming projects,” Stark said. “I also feel like she is incredibly committed to mentorship and helping us (students) develop as artists and teachers/scholars.”

Stark said she is inspired by Dunye’s work, especially the film “The Watermelon Woman.” As a young aspiring queer woman filmmaker, Stark says Dunye’s work ultimately showed her that queer women can make films and be successful in the field.

Desiree Buford, director of exhibition and programming at Frameline, said Dunye has a history of pushing the boundaries of storytelling by blending dynamic narrative and personal documentary into a singular cinematic vision.

In her latest short film, BLACK IS BLUE, Dunye examines the experience of transgender men of color whose intersecting identities are often misrepresented or invisible in film and media.

“BLACK IS BLUE is an impactful work about the importance of living an authentic life and honoring one’s whole self,” Buford said.

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