Sisters in the Life

A History of Out African American Lesbian Media-Making

Book Pages: 296 Illustrations: 54 illustrations Published: March 2018

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > LGBTQ Studies, Media Studies > Film

From experimental shorts and web series to Hollywood blockbusters and feminist porn, the work of African American lesbian filmmakers has made a powerful contribution to film history. But despite its importance, this work has gone largely unacknowledged by cinema historians and cultural critics. Assembling a range of interviews, essays, and conversations, Sisters in the Life tells a full story of African American lesbian media-making spanning three decades. In essays on filmmakers including Angela Robinson, Tina Mabry and Dee Rees; on the making of Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman (1996); and in interviews with Coquie Hughes, Pamela Jennings, and others, the contributors center the voices of black lesbian media makers while underscoring their artistic influence and reach as well as the communities that support them. Sisters in the Life marks a crucial first step in narrating the history and importance of these compelling yet unsung artists.

Contributors. Jennifer DeVere Brody, Jennifer DeClue, Raul Ferrera-Balanquet, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Thomas Allen Harris, Devorah Heitner, Pamela L. Jennings, Alexandra Juhasz, Kara Keeling, Candace Moore, Marlon Moore, Michelle Parkerson, Roya Rastegar, L. H. Stallings, Yvonne Welbon, Patricia White, Karin D. Wimbley


"Sisters in the Life is an act of reclamation, a means of shining a light on the critical work that these women have done with little recognition or fanfare. . . . For those who are invested in the history of representation, Sisters in the Life is worth adding to your bookshelf." — Evette Dionne, Bitch

"This well-researched title is highly recommended for readers interested in African American, women's, LGBTQ, and general film studies." — Sally Bryant, Library Journal

"Sisters in the Life moves uninterruptedly from strength to strength. Along the way, its stories are eclectic but interrelated, U.S.-centered but increasingly global, alert to ongoing inequities but inspired by past and present accomplishments— and by futures that look brighter all the time." — Nick Davis, Film Comment

"In this academic but engaging anthology, contributors examine the important contributions of black lesbian filmmakers over the past three decades. Finally, filmmakers like Cheryl Dunye, Dee Rees, and Angela Robinson get their due. So too should Welbon (director of 1993’s famed Sisters in the Life: First Love.)" — Jacob Anderson-Minshall, The Advocate

"This is an eye-opening study that seems likely to become a classic in its genre." — Jean Roberta, Gay & Lesbian Review

"This groundbreaking collection of essays will be useful to anyone interested in alternate histories, cultural studies, issues of production, marginalized media, or queer cinema. . . . Since very few texts like this exist—meaning those that center Black lesbian media makers—this book could serve as a model for moving away from a traditional anthology structure to include interviews, group response via fax machine, reflections on the technical process of media-making, and other innovative examples." — Briana Barner, Resources for Gender and Women's Studies

“An important, thoughtful, and infinitely readable collection. Yvonne Welbon, Alexandra Juhasz, and the many writers and filmmakers in here have always broken—and continue to break—new ground.” — Jacqueline Woodson

“Like a VIP invitation to the coolest party, Sisters in the Life provides access to long-off-limits company in the trenches of cultural production and exhibition and reveals how queer filmmakers of color came to prominence and how friendship networks nurtured creativity and access. Yvonne Welbon and Alexandra Juhasz are the perfect guides—for their expertise, knowledge of the archive, and first-hand involvement in the history. For anyone who still thinks that great films appear magically out of thin air, this truth-telling volume will be a revelation.” — B. Ruby Rich, Professor, University of California, Santa Cruz


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Price: $26.95

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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Yvonne Welbon is the founder of the Chicago-based nonprofit Sisters in Cinema. She is an independent filmmaker whose films have screened on PBS, Starz/Encore, TV-ONE, IFC, Bravo, and the Sundance Channel and in over one hundred film festivals around the world.

Alexandra Juhasz is Professor and Chair of the Department of Film at Brooklyn College, City University of New York; the coeditor of A Companion to Contemporary Documentary Film; and a documentary filmmaker.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface. To Be Transparent: Seeing Directions and Connections in Black Lesbian Film / Alexandra Juhasz  ix
Introduction. The Sisters in the Life Archive Project / Yvonne Welbon  1
Part I. 1986–1995
Introduction / Yvonne Welbon  15
1. Birth of a Notion: Toward Black, Gay, and Lesbian Imagery in Film and Video / Michelle Parkerson  21
2. Narrating Our History: An Introduction / Thomas Allen Harris  26
3. Narrating Our History: Selections from a Dialogue among Queer Media Artists from the African Diaspora / Edited by Raùl Ferrera-Balanquet and Thomas Allen Harris, with Shari Frilot, Leah Gilliam, Dawn Suggs, Jocelyn Taylor, and Yvonne Welbon  29
4. Construction of Computation and Desire: Introduction to Yvonne Welbon's Interview with Pamela L. Jennings / Kara Keeling  47
5. Ruins and Desire: Interview with Pamela L. Jennings, July 27, 2012 / Yvonne Welbon  51
6. the book of ruins and desire: Interactive Mechatronic Sculpture / Pamela L. Jennings  63
7. A Cosmic Demonstration of  Shari Frilot's Curatorial Practice / Roya Rastegar  66
8. Identity and Performance in Yvonne Welbon's Remembering Wei-Yi Fang, Remembering Myself: An Autobiography / Devorah Heitner  92
Part II. 1996–2016
Introduction / Yvonne Welbon  115
9. Producing Black Lesbian Media / Candace Moore  125
10. Stereotypy, Mammy, and Recovery in Cheryl Dunye's The Watermelon Woman / Karin D. Wimbley
11. Coquie Hughes: Urban Lesbian Filmmaker. Introduction to Yvonne Welbon's Interview with Coquie Hughes / Jennifer DeVere Brody  160
12. Stepping Out on Faith: Interview with Coquie Hughes, July 27, 2012 / Yvonne Welbon  165
13. "Invite Me In!": Angela Robinson at Hollywood's Threshold / Patricia White  176
14. Shine Louise Houston: An Interstice of Her Own Making / L. H. Stallings  191
15. From Rage to Resignation: Reading Tina Mabry's Mississippi Damned as a Post-Civil Rights Response to Nina Simone's "Mississippi Goddam" / Marlon Rahquel Moore  205
16. The Circuitous Route of Presenting Black Butch: The Travels of Dee Ree's Pariah / Jennifer DeClue  225
17. Creating the World Anew: Black Lesbian Legacies and Queer Film Futures / Alexis Pauline Gumbs  249
Acknowledgments  261
Selected Bibliography  263
Contributors  269
Index  273
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7086-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-7071-0
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