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.

In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue

“Moonlight” shows depictions of black masculinity and what can happen as a result of deviating from that role. From the start, Chiron does not play into the stereotypes of black masculinity, leading him to be bullied from a young age until adolescence. Kevin, on the other hand, is also attracted to women, making it easier for him to play a heteronormative role in school while hiding his queer identity. This is because blackness is not something you can hide yet queerness is.

Vaught talks about the state categorizing students into the bully and the bullied. In “Moonlight”, when Kevin is forced to hit Chiron, Kevin plays the role of the bully and Chiron plays the role of the bullied. They are both queer black men, but Kevin takes on the role of “perpetrator” while Chiron takes on the role of “victim.” We then see what happens when Chiron does take on the role of “perpetrator” when hits a fellow student with a chair. At that point, his queerness becomes invisible while his blackness determines how the institution treats him.

To the state, only White queerness can be visible. Black queerness cannot exist in our current institution since people who are both black and queer will only be visible as “black” and their queerness will not be acknowledged. Therefore, when anti-bullying legislation is made to protect queer youth, it cannot protect non-White queerness.