Today marks the 25th anniversary of Julie Dash’s classic period drama Daughters of the Dust, and it returns to theaters in a gorgeous restoration.
Daughters is the first feature directed by an African American woman to receive general theatrical release, and Dash is a legendary filmmaker who has paved the way for an entire generation of filmmakers who are pushing forward towards their artistic pursuits. Reportedly made for only $800,000, the film is set at the turn of the 20th century among South Carolina’s Gullah community, descendants of slaves who settled on the coastal islands. Notably featuring heavy use of the Gullah dialect, the unconventional story, narrated by an unborn child, follows the women of an extended family who have long preserved their beliefs, language, and traditions, but face irrevocable changes as they prepare to move to the Industrial north as part of the Great Migration.
“I really wanted to see an African-American historical drama that took me places that I had never been to before. Just like I was taken places when I was watching foreign films or even some American epics. Films I was seeing at the time weren’t really made for African-Americans, they were made to explain our history to others….” – Julie Dash
In 1999, the 25th Annual Newark Black Film Festival honored Dash and Daughters as being one of the most important cinematic achievements in Black Cinema in the 20th century. In December 2004, The Library of Congress placed the film in the National Film Registry where it joined 400 American films preserved as a National Treasures. Daughters of the Dust went on to greatly influence subsequent black cinema and black culture, and most recently was referenced in Beyonce’s Lemonade special for HBO.
The 2016 Lemonade visual album evokes images of female lineage, sisterhood, parallels the past, and pays tribute in much of the imagery and subject matter found in Daughters. Since the Beyonce Lemonade special, publications like the New York Times and Vanity Fair have introduced the 25 year old film to audiences who may have never heard of it before, and it was introduced to a new generation.
“As artists, each project you take on is a challenge. You try to work your magic and do the best you can. Then you go on to the next, and how it’s received often is not as significant as having had it made. I learned a lot making it. I was able to express myself, but it’s like writing a poem or painting a picture. You make it, and then you move on. I’m already on to the next thing. But I’m thrilled a whole new generation gets to see it and comment on it.” – Julie Dash
Dash is currently in production on a feature length documentary about Vertamae Smart Grosvenor, a world-renowned author, performer, and chef from rural South Carolina who led a remarkably unique and complex life. The film is based upon Grosvenor’s bestselling work, Vibration Cooking: or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl.
Daughters of the Dust opens today, Nov. 18 at Film Forum, with a nationwide theatrical release to follow.