Names in The Watermelon Woman and Q.U.E.E.N

 

I think a lot about names!  About my name, why I was named that, what it carries for me, how it makes me feel, how I feel when different people say it, what other people think of my name, what feels like the right/wrong way to say my name.  Other’s peoples names, how I pronounce them, what I infer from them about others, what they mean for those people.  I think names are really, really important. And I think for queer people, names carry really specific meaning.

In The Watermelon Woman, the title is also the name that Cheryl calls Fae Richards.  Fae was credited in the movie she was in as “the watermelon woman.”  The white director stripped Fae of her name and gave her an identity that upholds racist notions of Black womanhood.  Fae didn’t have the basic right to name herself, to claim her name—an experience shared by many people of color and queer people, especially Trans* and GNC people.  Does a name hold identity?  In the film, Cheryl eventually finds June Walker, Fae’s longtime partner and a queer Black woman.  She is angry with Cheryl for even using the name “watermelon woman.”  When we name those in history, especially queer people, what do we decide about how they are represented?  I want to connect this (mis)naming to Heather Love’s “Feeling Backwards,” and the potential hurt to be uncovered but also created when Cheryl looks backwards for a queer Black woman in film.

In Janelle Monae’s “Q.U.E.E.N”, she starts by asking “I can’t believe all of the things they say about me,” and throughout the song she describes when others name her as “dirty,” “freak,” “weird,” “insane,” “sinner,” “rude,” and more—and she names herself in the title and throughout the song as a queen.  All of the names others call her are racialized and queered names, that queer people and Black woman are called to delegitimate, marginalize, and harm.  She claims instead that she is a queen!

But she also distances herself in real life from being labelled as gay, so I’m not exactly sure where to go with that…  I think that the names we are called, choose to call ourselves, and more are really crucial.

Scattered Thoughts

This week’s readings and viewings were somewhat of a challenge for me, mostly because I don’t have a lot of context on narrative theory (or psychoanalysis or queer theory for that matter!), and have never watched the Little Mermaid!  That being said, here are some of my thoughts on Judith Roof’s “Come As You Are” and the two viewings:

  • When I first watched Moonlight, I felt a slight sense of confusion or dissatisfaction at the end, like maybe I had missed something.  After reading Roof’s discussion on endings, I understand my reaction as a response to the narrative I have been constructed to expect: one with a clear, climactic ending, involving sexual climax, death, or a related metaphor.
  • One of the most poignant understandings I gained from Roof’s piece is the role that homosexual and deviant sexual behaviors play in the middle of a narrative, as the heterosexual ending is re-inscribed.   This is an important critique on the way homosexual sexuality, when it is portrayed as such, continued to uphold the necessity of a heterosexual, reproductive end.
  • I felt confused about the connections drawn at the end of Roof’s piece to capitalism.  I understand the commodification of queer identity, but still have questions about the ties to narrative.
  • In relation to “Be Prepared” from the Lion King and “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid, Roof’s arguments are really interesting.  Scar lays out a clear end—the deaths of Mufasa and Simba—that will lead to the coming story where he is the King.  We anticipate this ending, even as we know it will not happen.  In “Be Prepared,” Ariel chooses to participate in devious behavior—using the magic of Ursula, a non-normative character in terms of gender portrayal and sexuality—to take her to the inherent end—heterosexual matching and potential reproduction.

All of this made me think about our class, “Queer Narratives”—now that we have begun to unpack what a narrative is, I’m excited to deepen my understanding of how we understand and use the word queer.