Distinguished Visiting Professor Julie Dash Re-Releases “Daughter’s of the Dust” With 25th Anniversary Interview at Morehouse College
It’s been 25 years since trailblazing filmmaker Julie Dash changed the landscape of movies about African Americans post slavery with her visually stunning film, “Daughters of the Dust.”
It was the first feature-length film directed and produced by an African-American woman to ever hit theaters.
Now, the Morehouse College Distinguished Visiting Professor is celebrating the film’s anniversary by re-releasing it to new audiences. “Daughters of the Dust” will soon be available on Blu-ray.
Dash returned to Morehouse recently to record an exclusive interview about “Daughters of the Dust” that will be included on the Blu-ray edition. The filmmaker spoke to Stephanie Dunn, Director of the Morehouse College Cinema, Film & Emerging Media Studies Program, about the vision she had for her award-winning film and the challenges she faced during its production in 1989
She braved the early winds of Hurricane Hugo, the sandflies of the Sea Islands while pregnant, and led a film crew that included her then-husband and photographer Arthur Jafa at a time when women, particularly, black women hadn’t ascended to the director’s chair.
“Julie Dash is a pioneering, legendary director,” Dunn said. “It’s really important for Morehouse College Cinema, Film & Emerging Media Studies Program to have someone with her talent and generosity in wanting to share with students all that she has learned and is still doing in filmmaking. She was navigating the politics of race and gender and doing things before a lot of opportunities existed particularly for black women in film.”
Dash’s film, “Daughters of the Dust,” won critical acclaim and the Cinematography Award at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival. It also received a Grand Jury Prize nod. It is lauded for its influence on black films and was most recently referenced in the beachfront African dance scene in Beyonce’s “Lemonade” on HBO.
“Daughters of the Dust” is set on a summer day in 1902 in the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia after the end of slavery. It tells the story of the Peazant family’s ritual farewell celebration on the eve of their departure for the main land. The eldest member, a great grandmother, worries that the ties to the family’s Yoruba roots will be left behind when they depart.
Dash did it all on “Daughter’s of the Dust” - researched, wrote, directed and produced the film after being inspired by a piece of African art that she saw during an outing with her mother in New York.
“My mother said, ‘Why don’t you back up and take a picture with it,’ and so I did,” Dash recalled. “I felt something coming off of the figure head. I don’t know what it was. It was a strange vibe, and it never left me.”
Years later when Dash wrote “Daughter’s of the Dust,” she incorporated the figure head into the film and had it floating in the muck at Igbo’s Landing on St. Simons Island where slave ships had once docked. The floating figure was representative of a “loss of warrior status,” Dash explained. “That is exactly what happened to many of the warriors who were captured and enslaved in this country. It was my comment on the trauma of slavery.”
Dash said she used many other symbols in her film that honored African culture and celebrated the beauty of the ebony skin of her characters. She duplicated some scenes she found in old photographs.
"Until the film, we never saw black women in white dresses on the sand running across a beach,” Dash said. “We didn’t have that in our minds. It was my attempt to reimagine who we are and what we look like based on who we were.”
Julie Dash, Morehouse College Distinguished Visiting Professor, began teaching documentary filmmaking at Morehouse College last spring. She also taught “Black Women in Filmmaking” with Professor Stephanie Dunn (Director of the Morehouse College Cinema, Film & Emerging Media Studies Program ) and “A Storyteller Called Spike Lee.” She will return to the classroom in the spring to teach a master’s class on directing documentary films.