Cheryl Dunye interview: ‘Lovecraft Country’ and ‘Pride’ director
“The story has many elements of filmmaking and storytelling that matches with my timeline as a filmmaker about race, about gender, about sexuality, about, you know, being on the margins,” says Cheryl Dunye about the “Lovecraft Country” episode “Strange Case,” which she directed. This season she also helmed an episode of the FX documentary series “Pride,” about the fight for LGBT rights throughout the 20th century. Watch our exclusive video interview with Dunye above.
Marginalization is a major theme in “Lovecraft Country,” which explores anti-Black racism in 1950s America through the lens of supernatural horror. And Dunye’s episode was an especially unique exploration of that subject, following Ruby (Wunmi Musaku) after magic gives her the opportunity to experience the world as a white woman. Those fantasy elements “allowed me to elevate the storytelling” and “allowed me to put another layer on the messages that I wanted to already speak.”
The episode also includes a subplot that explores the relationship between the closeted Montrose (Michael Kenneth Williams) and his much more liberated lover Sammy (Jon Hudson Odom). “I know the queer canon pretty well,” Dunye explains about the knowledge she drew from for this storyline. “So I know really what life was like in the ’50s from some of the great folks who’ve written about Black queer lives,” like poet Audre Lorde and historian Mark Stein. “And then I also have parents that were in love and alive during the ’50s.”
Lorde also factors into Dunye’s work on “Pride.” She directed the third episode, “1970s: The Vanguard of Struggle,” which focused on the decade right after the Stonewall uprising and right before the AIDS epidemic. The episode doesn’t just explore the history of the movement, though. It’s also a personal recollection of Dunye’s formative influences as an artist and activist, especially Lorde and pioneering lesbian director Barbara Hammer. “One of my mantras is, ‘The personal is political,'” says Dunye. “And how people created their own culture is something that I still am involved in.”
The story of queer rights in the ’70s also includes two prominent opponents of that movement: right-wing anti-LGBT activists Phyllis Schlafly and Anita Bryant. Watching footage of their bigotry can be “quite painful,” but that counterpoint gives context to the struggle and shows how backlash against queer liberation further stoked activists’ commitment for queer liberation. “They needed to birth each other.”