A fine Eastern Pende Panya-Gombe African mask. Coll.: David Norden
Daughters of The Dust
discussion group at:
A film of spellbinding
visual beauty and brilliant resonant performances, Julie Dash's Daughters Of The
Dust has become a landmark of independent film. With great lyricism, Daughters
tells the story of a large African-American family as it prepares to move North
at the dawn of the the 20th Century. Using this simple tale, the film brings to
life the changing values, conflicts and struggles that confront every family as
they leave their homeland for the promise of a new and better future.
Robert Farris Thompson Speaks: Daughters of the Dust
Robert Farris Thompson
comments on the symbols, aesthetics and spiritual meanings in Julie Dash's
Daughters of the Dust.
Daughters of the Dust Buy at Amazon
A film by Julie Dash
Working with a theme and history that's obviously dear to her heart, first-time writer-director Julie Dash's exquisitely alive film chronicles the last days of the Gullah, an Americanized West African people in danger of losing their identity. Dash makes up for some overly schematic dialogue and an occasionally pokey pace with some strong performances (particularly Cora Lee Day as the sternly matriarchal Nana) and an absolutely wonderful visual sense (kudos should also go to her ace cinematographer Arthur Jafa, whose dazzlingly sumptuous imagery surely inspired Jonathan Demme's later Beloved). A rapturously textured, wholly mesmerizing glimpse into the Gullah culture. --Andrew Wright
A Feast For the Eyes, Ears, And Heart, March 27, 2001
In the opening of her film, Daughters of the Dust, Julie Dash alerts the viewer that this is no ordinary African American story. Conversely, this is an American history lesson with African origins. A small informative note at the start of the film puts the entire movie in context. Without this explanatory foreword, many viewers would probably find the film hard to understand. Though the movie tells the story of the Peazant family's migration from the sea islands of the South, the story also gives a panoramic view of the Gullah culture at-large. Because the islands are isolated from the mainland states, the Gullah retain a distinct African ethnicity and culture. Ironically, the Peazants want to rid themselves of the old ways and heritage, thus beginning an exodus from the islands to the mainland. Taking place in 1902, just fifty years after the end of slavery, Daughter of the Dust explores the Peazant's struggle for survival and escape from poverty. The movie opens on the eve of the family's great migration to the mainland. A family celebration and farewell-of-sorts take place on the beach. The Peazants even hire a photographer to document this momentous occasion. As the movie progresses, the complexity of the family's departure from the island emerges. Difference and changing values mire the pending migration with conflict and strife. As the family prepares to leave, in search of a new life and better future, the film reveals the richness of the Gullah heritage. Narrations of "the unborn child" of Eli and Eula Peazant offer glimpses into problems the family has faced since their existence on the island. As explained by matriarch Nana Peazant, the Gullah are like "two people in one body." Though most Peazants were born in the Americas, their African heritage is forever evident. The internal conflicts of this duality haunt the family as they become ensnarled in battle, only to war against themselves. Through old African customs and rituals, such as glass bottle trees, salt water baths, and herb potions, Nana wants to ensure that the family stays together. Moreover, Nana, "the last of the old," has chosen to stay on the island. She celebrates everything that makes her who she is: the ugly and the good. She knows slavery and she knows freedom. Her life revolves around the continuation and strengthening of the Peazant family. Her rituals are often unappreciated and looked upon with scorn by other family members. Some family members are unwilling to grasp Nana's teachings and wisdom. They want to escape the island, to run away from the Gullah way of life. However, they cannot run from themselves. Just as Nana proclaims, they will always live a double life, no matter where they go. The trip to the mainland certainly cannot rid their indigo stained hands of its blue-blackish tint. Nor can the northern journey erase the memories of whom or what they are leaving. Unbeknownst to the younger Peazants, the duality, the recollections and remembrances, and the old way and traditions are gifts from their ancestors. Sadly, few are able to accept these gifts or comprehend their importance. Through authentic Gullah dialect, vivid imagery and colorful characters, Dash reveals the uniqueness of the Gullah people. A cousin, Yellow Mary, returns from Cuba to the island, facing the scorn of her people because she is a "ruint `oman." Haggar, a bitter woman who wants nothing to do with the old Gullah ways, does not realize that she cannot rid herself of whom she is. For example, she despises the "old Africans," yet retains their ways in her speech and use of African colloquialisms. Another cousin, Viola is full of Christian religious fervor and against the heathen practices and nature-worshiping traditions of her people. Eula, who gives a heart- wrenching soliloquy at the end of the movie, bears the burden of pregnancy and rape by a white man. Eli, Eula's husband, represents the strength and future of the Peazant clan. Besides being adept at character development, Julie Dash effectively educates the viewer about African-American history. Tales of flying Africans, water-walking Ibo, Islamic religion, and slave trading are skillfully woven in small snatches throughout the film. We also see connections between African-Americans and Native Americans. The lessons learned from this film are too numerous. One must see the film more than once to appreciate all the information presented. Daughters of the Dust awakens all the senses. The beautiful cinematography transports viewers to a surreal place and time, creating a visual paradise. Each scene makes its introduction with mesmerizing African music, which aptly fits each setting. As the Gullah women prepare food for the feast, one cannot help but imagine the taste and smell of gumbo, shrimp, and crab. This movie also arouses the heart. One can easily identify and empathize with the characters' passion and sincerity. Often, the characters relay sentiments and convictions so convincingly, that it is hard to believe that the players were acting. Understanding complete passages is often difficult because of the beautiful and authentic tonality of the language. Nonetheless, the use of standard English could not have conveyed Dash's message as successfully. We should appreciate this film for its originality and courage. Stories such as these are hardly ever told. Most films neglect the eclectic nature of the African American community, usually focusing on only aspects that are familiar to the masses. Here, Julie Dash reaches beyond the boundaries that are set for African-American films. Equally as important is her ability and willingness to validate the African-American experience. She eloquently and subtly deals with difficult subjects such as slavery, self-hatred, feminism, color prejudices, and rape. Dash does not throw one viewpoint in your face. Conversely, Dash gives the viewer a front row seat into the lives of a remarkable people. We are then left to draw conclusions for ourselves. One feels liberated, proud, and honored to be allowed a window into their lives. The movie is a celebration of the African-American diaspora. The images, language, and music of Daughters of the Dustwill linger in the minds of its fortunate viewers forever.
Daughters of the Dust Buy at Amazon A film by Julie Dash
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