Daughters of the Dust is a film about the descendants of the Gullah people of the islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, directed by Julie Dash. It is the first American film directed by an African American woman to get a general...
Julie Dash is an African American film director, writer, and producer. Daughters of the Dust, a semi-autobiographical account of her own family history, is her most famous film, and it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Notably, it was also the first feature film directed by an African American woman that got distributed as a theatrical release. Since directing Daughters of the Dust, Dash has directed music videos and worked extensively in television.
Dash was born in Queens, New York, and studied at the film school at CCNY, before getting a graduate degree at the UCLA Film School, where she was folded into a filmmaking movement known as L.A. Rebellion, a group of black film students committed to revolutionizing black independent cinema. Dash's first films were documentaries, but she said in an interview that reading novels by black women writers like Toni Morrison and Alice Walker inspired her to switch to narrative filmmaking.
In 1975, Dash directed the short film "Four Women," based on the Nina Simone song of that name. The video shows a dancer, Linda Martina Young, inhabiting various roles in a narrative about black female stereotypes. In 1982, she made a short film called "Illusions," directly addressing structural discrimination in American society, and Hollywood more specifically, through the character of Mignon Duprée, who has ascended the career ladder by "passing" for white.
Daughters of the Dust is Dash's most recognized and personal film, drawing on stories of her own father's Gullah background. The film was praised for its unconventional filmmaking and stunning visual style. In the review of the film in The New York Times, Stephen Holden wrote, "For all its harsh allusions to slavery and hardship, the film is an extended, wildly lyrical meditation on the power of African cultural iconography and the spiritual resilience of the generations of women who have been its custodians." The film won an award for cinematography at the Sundance Film Festival.
In spite of its success, Julie Dash was unable to get funding for another feature film, and turned to television instead. She directed The Rosa Parks Story starring Angela Bassett in 2002, and she has worked on shows such as Women: Stories of Passion, Funny Valentines, and Queen Sugar. Notably, Daughters of the Dust served as a visual and thematic inspiration for Beyonce's video album in 2016, Lemonade, bringing Dash's work back into the public eye. Dash's ex-husband and the cinematographer of Daughters of the Dust, Arthur Jafa, is also a frequent collaborator of Beyonce, as well as her sister, Solange.