Julie Dash: “Daughters of the Dust”

See image credit below.

See image credit below.

Lush. Evocative. Lyrical.

These are just three of the words I’d use to describe African American filmmaker Julie Dash’s 1991 masterwork, Daughters of the Dusticon.

Oh, how I love this film! Even without its powerful, powerful story, it is simply a joy and delight to watch. The cinematography is gorgeous, the South Carolina sea islands showcased in bountiful color. The actors – from Cora Lee Day as Nana Peazant to Barbara O. as Yellow Mary – are outstanding. And the soundtrack is, quite simply, mesmerizing.

Even with all of this, the story is the heart of the movie – and story is why we’re here! The film tells the tale of a Gullah family preparing to migrate from their South Carolina sea island to the mainland at the turn of the century. The film depicts the old matriarch Nana’s connection to the Peazant family graveyard and the connection of all the Peazant family women to the picnic site, a place of nourishment and gathering.

But this isn’t just any South Carolina sea island – it’s the site of Ibo Landing, the place where chained Africans stepped off the slave ship, saw their future, and turned around and walked back across the water to Africa. A variant of the flying Africans legend, the tale of slaves who walked on water at Ibo Landing forms the backdrop to this film. (For more on the history behind this tale, see my earlier post on Toni Morrison’s 1977 novel, Song of Solomon, or Virginia Hamilton’s telling of the tale in “The People Could Fly.”)

Curious about the deeper cultural significance of the film? Check out the first chapter of my 1994 book, A Southern Weave of Women.

Daughters of the Dust. Truly one of my favorites. You’ll definitely want to rent the DVD or stream it online (unfortunately, it is no longer available for purchase except as an expensive collectible). If you really become captivated by the film, you owe it to yourself to buy the companion book. It tells the story of how the film was made, includes the script and beautiful still photos from the film, and features an essay by the renowned African American cultural critic bell hooks. (Julie Dash and bell hooks in one book – gotta have it!)

“Never forget who we is and how far we done come,” Nana tells Eli in the film’s central scene (featured below). “We carry these memories inside of we.”

Watch the film, and celebrate these memories with Nana and her descendants.

Join me this week on Pinterest as I pin images and resources related to Julie Dash and Daughters of the Dust. Take a look around at all my boards – or go straight to “My Favorite Films” board for still photos from this visually arresting film.

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Watch:Watch this three-minute excerpt from Daughters of the Dust. Eli and his grandmother, Nana Peazant, talk about the family’s decision to leave the island.

Image credit: Public domain.