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JANINE a film by CHERYL DUNYE. 1990, USA, 9 min. A cathartic teenage confessional from a New Queer Wave icon.

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Before becoming synonymous with the New Queer Wave and sealing her place in history as the first Black lesbian to direct a feature film, Cheryl Dunye experimented with subtle shorts that blurred the line between fact and fiction. Janine, one of the director’s first lunges into filmmaking, unravels pent-up teenage frustrations brought on by the standards of white America into a cathartic confessional.

 

The film unfolds self-consciously, woven between direct-camera confessions, high school snapshots and apparitions of two flickering flames atop pink candles. Janine marks Dunye’s first film as an MFA student at Rutgers University. It took Dunye many years to incorporate her voice as a Black lesbian into her work as an artist. But, readying herself for a career in filmmaking, Dunye found it necessary to immerse herself, “physically and autobiographically, as a character in her work.”

 

 

 

Janine was where it really started. It was me sitting down to tell a story. Me using pictures to talk about that story. Me putting titles on the screen… My Black lesbian life matters, my story of my pain matters. I’m not the only one, I’m not alone. Being in my early work came out of necessity.” CHERYL DUNYE

 

Dunye stated her work strove for two goals, “the first, educate audiences that know little or nothing about Black lesbians,” and the second, “to empower and entertain the sisters.” Teetering between heartbreaking and comedic, the candid approach Dunye takes with Janine can be seen as the building blocks of a new queer aesthetic where the personal is political, painful and powerful.

 

Born in Monrovia, Liberia in 1966, Dunye is acclaimed for her breakout feature debut, The Watermelon Woman, which won the Teddy award at the 1996 Berlinale and was recently inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry as a landmark of New Queer Cinema. In 2015, Dunye co-founded the Queer Cinema Project at San Francisco State Unversity to champion young creatives making films about the LGBTQ+ experience. More recently, Dunye has moved to the TV landscape, making her debut on Queen Sugar, an Ava DuVernay-produced series featuring an all-female directors team. She directed multiple episodes on Netflix’s Bridgerton and the upcoming season of The Umbrella Academy, which will be released on June 22.

 

Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer.