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#85, make productive fake documentaries
April 11, 2017
In an article, “The Increasingly Unproductive Fake,” I wrote about The Watermelon Woman (Cheryl Dunye, 1996), I film that I produced and also acted in: “We took up fake documentary form in The Watermelon Woman to make many related claims about history: history is untrue, true history is irretrievable, and fake histories can be real. Dunye (both as director of The Watermelon Woman and as doppelganger character in the film, the African-American lesbian, “Cheryl,” who is making a documentary film) knows that before she came along, African-Americans, women, and lesbians did make films—in and out of Hollywood. She also knows that their presence, unrecorded and unstudied, passed quickly out of history becoming unavailable even as she craves ancestors to authorize and situate her voice. So, Dunye fakes the history of a formidable forerunner, Fae “The Watermelon Woman” Richards, so that she can tell a story that she, Cheryl, needs to know, one that is close to true, and yet also faked, and therefore at once beyond but also linked to reality and all that the real authorizes and disguises.”
“Marlon Fuentes reminds us that the gaps and ellipses of history are ‘just as important as the objects we have in our hands.’ The intangible is not inarticulate: it speaks in an unauthorized, untranslated tongue understood by some. In The Watermelon Woman, Fae speaks to Cheryl in a voice both expressive and inconclusive. And Cheryl can hear her. This is enough to empower Cheryl, at film’s end, to conclude, “I am a black lesbian filmmaker and I have a lot to say.” She learns a truth that she needs from the lie that she made which is Fa(k)e.”
“Dunye and Cheryl’s simultaneous avowal and disavowal of the real marks The Watermelon Woman as a productive fake. An (unstable) identity is created, a community (of skeptics) is built, and an (unresolved) political statement about black lesbian history and identity is articulated. The desire to say and hear something true through words and images that are fragmentary and even fake is the multiple project of the productive fake documentary.”
“In much more recent writing, I argue that the language of fake documentary has become the dominant vernacular of YouTube, and therefore, this once queer strategy has become toothless, or unqueer, or straight. Whatever. The ironic wedge, sometimes also known as camp, which long and well served the under-served of the modern and post-modern by allowing for a critique of the norm by using its very discourses of power against it, is now the discourse of power. But, to be productively queer was never simply to copy and mock, even marked with a funny or flouncy flourish or a some serious realness, it was always to do so with an actual change in mind. And all this is to say, in conclusion, something simple, sad, and maybe even hard to hear: that perhaps the self-conscious, self-aware, self-evident copy-with-a-twist is no longer queer at all, no longer productive, and all that is left is to be real.”
- The Increasingly Unproductive Fake – Alexandra Juhasz
- F is for Phony, Fake Documentary and Truth’s Undoing, Alexandra Juahsz and Jesse Lerner, eds.
To see a poetic response to this hardtruth:Explaining Myself
Falling asleep while reading the Joy Luck Club (1989)
During breaks from IQ testing in elementary school
Must mean I’m one overworked Asian kid
But the truth is that book bored me–and I’ll fast forward
throughout its movie adaptation too. Mishima
was way more exciting because I’d rather be
a Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea than Waverly Jong.
I don’t know how I’m supposed to interpret compliments
That I’m beautiful like Mulan, especially when it’s coming from
sweet elderly Chinese women–like my acupuncturist. Am I
pretty like Disney’s Mulan (1998) or historical Hua Mulan?
Bridal Mulan or Warrior Mulan? Do they really think the only
striking reference I’ll have of an attractive or powerful Asian
woman is a cartoon? Or are they assuming I’d be familiar with
ancient Chinese poetry due to my studies? I will never know.
Nutshelling Battle Hymn of a Tiger Mother (2011) means pointing
out Chinese people in the Philippines circled their wagons and
defended themselves by pursing excellence as their main protection
in hostile environments. But ended up eating their young in the
process. And some people keep spreading this disease.
Crazy Rich Asians (2018) may just upgrade old Asian stereotypes and
introduce new ones. Already there’s disapproval for a casting as a leading
man Henry Golding, who’s half-white. But his other half is Iban from Borneo.
That part of his heritage comes to the fore because I’m not looking for
whiteness. But seeking instances where being indigenous isn’t shameful,
ugly, remote, brokeass, or backward buffoonery. If more Asians could see
and value indigeneity, then maybe whiteness would be less important.
This poem is a response to hardtruth #85:#85, make productive fake documentaries