Daughters of the Dust (1991)

Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbarao, Trula Hoosier,
Languid look at the Gullah culture of the sea islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia where African folk-ways were maintained well into the 20th Century and was one of the last bastions of these mores in America. Set in...
  • 6.6 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Writer:
  • Julie Dash, Director:
  • Arthur Jafa, Steven Jones, Producer:


/ 10

Daughters of the Dust is film that slits the eyes of spectators who havebeen fed only linear and simplistic narrative/plot dev'ts throughhollywoodism and can't possibly fathom any other way of being/thinking. Itis truly an excruciating film to watch for those who have not dreamt andlived the "double consciousness" of modernity, for those who do NOT wanttorecall and remember the fact of american quilombos, maroon societies,slaverevolters and runaways who succesfully established another way of life,notbased on european dominance. This story is about the struggles ofmaintaining that community in 1902, a turning point in the life of thisonemaroon society. Dash breaks with cinematic codes in her experimentalreconstruction of historical memory...a forgotten episode in Africanamerican history, a forgotten place, re-calling back to life ancestorsthathad survived and thrived: The Gullahs, Peazant family, persisting,unerasable, as the unborn child running through our memory, coming out ofour past, forging a new and alternative future: a future that rejects thelimitations of western epistemology. The summoning of these images toscreenfrom the unwritten (african) past provides its own logic and developmentwhich Dash successfully visualizes in a polyphonic tradition, many voices,multiple perspectives. She does not allow a simplistic and individualisticrendering of this history...NO!she allows the struggle of divergentafricanperspectives, Christian, Muslim, Africanist, Native American to emerge inthe same frame, to address that age old question: To exist or not toexist,to bear witness or to forget. In order for this history to exist and bearwitness, Julie Dash does not allow any conventional reductionary scheme ofnarrativity, her temporal references are not linear. Her story is toldthrough palimpestic time, the past present and future, overlapping anddisjunctive: rupturing our understanding of history/memory and identity.Theconflict that drives the film's narrative is not individualego/conventionalgood vs bad drama/or boy gets girl(Hollywoodism); the conflict is how willthe communal memory of these African survivors be salvaged from theravagingof modernism's erasure..We see the family eat their last supper as theriteof passage to a life on the other side, a side that the ancestors foughttodiverge from...The film is testimony to the african ancestors and to thespirit of resistance of slave revolters. Many people have offeredcriticismof dash's "feminism." Feminism is a problematic concept to apply to thisfilm, no it is not feminist, it is afro-centric, matri-focal, and woman,asbearer of culture and memory as mother to the community, becomes theembodiment of that struggle. (of course it is not "feminist": it doesn'tspeak about abortion law, equal pay, etc etc..this kind of feminism iseurocentric and simplistic..)Thank you Julie Dash, i am not african american but the tears poured downmyface as i, too, recalled that life left behind, another time anotherplace.A place where people, muslims/christians/indigenous or any other canactually co-exist peacefully side by side, respectful of each other'sdifferences. The character who chose to leave her so called "civilized"mother at the last minute, to take off with her Native American lover..isone of the most powerful onscreen testimony of love between indigenouspeoples that has ever been made.

/ 10

A Feast For the Eyes, Ears, And Heart, March 26, 2001Reviewer: Angela Jefferson (see more about me) from Memphis, TnUSAIn the opening of her film, Daughters of the Dust, Julie Dash alerts theviewer that this is no ordinary African American story. Conversely, this isan American history lesson with African origins. A small informative noteatthe start of the film puts the entire movie in context. Without thisexplanatory foreword, many viewers would probably find the film hard tounderstand. Though the movie tells the story of the Peazant family'smigration from the sea islands of the South, the story also gives apanoramic view of the Gullah culture at-large. Because the islands areisolated from the mainland states, the Gullah retain a distinct Africanethnicity and culture. Ironically, the Peazants want to rid themselves ofthe old ways and heritage, thus beginning an exodus from the islands to themainland. Taking place in 1902, just fifty years after the end of slavery,Daughter of the Dust explores the Peazant's struggle for survival andescapefrom poverty. The movie opens on the eve of the family's great migration tothe mainland. A family celebration and farewell-of-sorts take place on thebeach. The Peazants even hire a photographer to document this momentousoccasion. As the movie progresses, the complexity of the family's departurefrom the island emerges. Difference and changing values mire the pendingmigration with conflict and strife. As the family prepares to leave, insearch of a new life and better future, the film reveals the richness oftheGullah heritage. Narrations of "the unborn child" of Eli and Eula Peazantoffer glimpses into problems the family has faced since their existence onthe island. As explained by matriarch Nana Peazant, the Gullah are like"twopeople in one body." Though most Peazants were born in the Americas, theirAfrican heritage is forever evident. The internal conflicts of this dualityhaunt the family as they become ensnarled in battle, only to war againstthemselves. Through old African customs and rituals, such as glass bottletrees, salt water baths, and herb potions, Nana wants to ensure that thefamily stays together. Moreover, Nana, "the last of the old," has chosen tostay on the island. She celebrates everything that makes her who she is:theugly and the good. She knows slavery and she knows freedom. Her liferevolves around the continuation and strengthening of the Peazant family.Her rituals are often unappreciated and looked upon with scorn by otherfamily members. Some family members are unwilling to grasp Nana's teachingsand wisdom. They want to escape the island, to run away from the Gullah wayof 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 tothe mainland certainly cannot rid their indigo stained hands of itsblue-blackish tint. Nor can the northern journey erase the memories of whomor what they are leaving. Unbeknownst to the younger Peazants, the duality,the recollections and remembrances, and the old way and traditions aregiftsfrom their ancestors. Sadly, few are able to accept these gifts orcomprehend their importance. Through authentic Gullah dialect, vividimageryand colorful characters, Dash reveals the uniqueness of the Gullah people.Acousin, Yellow Mary, returns from Cuba to the island, facing the scorn ofher people because she is a "ruint 'oman." Haggar, a bitter woman who wantsnothing to do with the old Gullah ways, does not realize that she cannotridherself of whom she is. For example, she despises the "old Africans," yetretains their ways in her speech and use of African colloquialisms. Anothercousin, Viola is full of Christian religious fervor and against the heathenpractices and nature-worshiping traditions of her people. Eula, who gives aheart- wrenching soliloquy at the end of the movie, bears the burden ofpregnancy and rape by a white man. Eli, Eula's husband, represents thestrength and future of the Peazant clan. Besides being adept at characterdevelopment, Julie Dash effectively educates the viewer aboutAfrican-American history. Tales of flying Africans, water-walking Ibo,Islamic religion, and slave trading are skillfully woven in small snatchesthroughout the film. We also see connections between African-Americans andNative Americans. The lessons learned from this film are too numerous. Onemust see the film more than once to appreciate all the informationpresented. Daughters of the Dust awakens all the senses. The beautifulcinematography transports viewers to a surreal place and time, creating avisual paradise. Each scene makes its introduction with mesmerizing Africanmusic, which aptly fits each setting. As the Gullah women prepare food forthe 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 andempathize with the characters' passion and sincerity. Often, the charactersrelay sentiments and convictions so convincingly, that it is hard tobelievethat the players were acting. Understanding complete passages is oftendifficult because of the beautiful and authentic tonality of the language.Nonetheless, the use of standard English could not have conveyed Dash'smessage as successfully. We should appreciate this film for its originalityand courage. Stories such as these are hardly ever told. Most films neglectthe eclectic nature of the African American community, usually focusing ononly aspects that are familiar to the masses. Here, Julie Dash reachesbeyond the boundaries that are set for African-American films. Equally asimportant is her ability and willingness to validate the African-Americanexperience. She eloquently and subtly deals with difficult subjects such asslavery, self-hatred, feminism, color prejudices, and rape. Dash does notthrow one viewpoint in your face. Conversely, Dash gives the viewer a frontrow seat into the lives of a remarkable people. We are then left to drawconclusions for ourselves. One feels liberated, proud, and honored to beallowed a window into their lives. The movie is a celebration of theAfrican-American diaspora. The images, language, and music of Daughters ofthe Dust will linger in the minds of its fortunate viewersforever.

10/10 / 10

This is one of the finest black films of the last twenty years. JulieDash has created an evocative portrait of African American life thatstill holds an African past in the cradle of everyday life. The film isalso a brilliant depiction of gender relations in black communities.Daughters of the Dust presents a vital, spiritual, and hauntingportrait of black women, their agency and their connection to anurturing ancestral past. Very few films about black people seriouslyexplore the deep spiritual connections between Old and New World, andfewer still look so carefully at a particular community. The Gullahpeople of the Sea Islands are a group that remains largely unknown inboth mainstream and black culture. As group that has clearly adapted tolife in a new place, they still demonstrate powerful connections to anAfrican past. In their adaptation and connection, they show thestrength and resilience of black communities and cultures.

8/10 / 10

I really enjoyed this movie. Its been a few years since I've seen itand I saw it twice. As a matter of fact, I'll rent it again or buy itif I can. No plot (I don't get the other poster comments). The moviewas about a family and every day life as I saw it. I enjoyed it becauseit was pleasant, no guns, no thugs (lol), just a simple movie about afamily and a group of people I knew nothing about. I still want tovisit that area in South Carolina one day. I also enjoyed the moviebecause the actors are not well known actors in my eyes. I get tired ofseeing the same actors in movies. I will do some research on the Gullah(sp) people.

/ 10

Daughters of the Dust directed by Julie Dash is a culturalperspective look into the lives of an African American family left on anisland years after being torn from their heritage of Africa for slaveryonlyto have revolted and be left to themselves, stranded on the island offthecoast of the Southern eastern coast and the family who live off theislandwith others who long to find their heritage. The film's story line isdeveloped in the one day where the family is getting ready to head to anewworld on the main land. The internal conflict of the family betweenrelatives who no longer live on the island who have become part of theculture of America post civil war and the family left on the island thatlive by the old heritage and customs. The family on the island strugglebetween their history and culture to the change of the times and the needfor conformity.This film centers on the generations of the family from the youngchildrenwho are filled with life then to the adults who are torn between theirdecisions to leave to finally the center character, the elder grandmotherofthe family Nana. Nana's ways and beliefs that have been accepted by thefamily their entire lives are now the only thing holding the family backfrom their future off the island. The film focuses largely on the womenofthe family, displaying the differences of ones who that have lived on theisland and then those whom have lived off it. The lines divided betweenthetwo are evidently shown throughout the film. The women who lived off theisland no longer take to heart their heritage that Nana lives by. Theyfindit to be uncivilized and against the teaching of the bible. There is thescene in which the family after much struggle and torment accept Nana'sdecision to stay and her heritage. The scene is of the entire familygathered around the grandmother in which she has a lock of her hair andothers placed on a bible asking everyone to believe in the old ways andtakeher with her by kissing the hair and bible. Finally, the scene acts asimportance because one of the outside family members whom diligentlypreaches and believes in Christianity gives in to Nana's request.

Daughters of the Dust cannot be explained without stating the mise encinema. From the clothing to the shots of the landscape of the islandallresemble the time and place of the film. Not only the background andclothes, but also the character themselves turn this limited distributedfilm into a believable representation of what people of this time wouldactand be. The storyline background of the slavery uprising actually havingtaken place on the island gives it enormous creditability. The shots oftheisland start the creditability of the film with shots of the womeninteracting with the water of the ocean and the rivers, the shots of theforest and trees, and finally the most significant may be when the womenarepreparing the dinner showing how their food is prepared with live seafoodand spices gathered from the island. The mise en cinema is creditablebecause of the clothes as well; from Nana who has only a dress is indigo,which was the main produce to harvest by the slaves on the island to thewhite Victorian dress of the women from the main land.

Dash's Daughters of the Dust cannot be denied as a cultural perspectivethat's originality has touched on the transition to the new culture ofAfrican Americans and they past that many have forgotten after thepostwarcivil war era. Its cultural insight may have been directed to a certainselected target audience, but its look into the heritage of the peoplecannot be viewed as anything but a respectable insight of thetimes.