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Daughters of the Dust  /  Four Women

Daughters of the Dust (1991)
October 7, 2011 - 7:30 pm
Julie Dash, Tommy Redmond Hicks, Bahni Turpin.

Daughters of the Dust  (1991)

New print!

Directed by Julie Dash

Julie Dash’s 1991 masterpiece was her first feature, and the first American feature directed by an African American woman to receive a general theatrical release. It announced a formidable talent, and in the grandeur and intricacy of its formal construction and themes, powerfully emblematized its director’s purposeful commitment to cinema.

Abounding with surprise, the film transports us to a little-known setting to unfold a universal tale. The year is 1902, in the home of several “Gullah” people, descendants of African captives who escaped the slave trade to live on islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. Here, many members of the Peazant family are on the verge of a planned migration to the U.S. mainland, where American modernity seems, vaguely, to offer a good life.

However, family members clash over the meaning of this move. Viola, who has lived up North and returned as a Christian convert, views the crossing as a step out of bankrupt African superstitions into a kind of light. Scandal-tinged “Yellow Mary,” returning to the family from a long self-exile, still asserts her independence but fears losing the touchstone of home. Nana Peazant, the aged matriarch, refuses to migrate, and frets over the possibility of broken family ties and lost traditions. Eulah, young and with child, fears that the family’s plan represents a futile flight from intractable legacies of pain. 

A brilliant cast enacts these negotiations with exceeding depth, befitting the weight of the decision the Peazants face … to embrace the land that their ancestors fled. Dash constructs their home as a rarefied world, possibly soon a “Paradise Lost,” through a masterful interplay of mise-en-scène, symbolic markers and magical realist gestures. All of this is graced by the luminous cinematography of A. Jaffa Fielder and John Barnes’ stunningly original musical score. Named to the National Film Registry in 2004 by the Library of Congress, Daughters of the Dust eloquently frames questions that have preoccupied many independent filmmakers of Dash’s generation: the place of family and tradition in ameliorating historical wrongs, the hope of spiritual escape from a history of trauma, and the elusive possibility of finding deliverance together. —Shannon Kelley

Producer: Julie Dash. Screenwriter: Julie Dash. Cinematographer: A. Jaffa Fielder. Editor: Amy Carey, Joseph Burton. Cast: Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbara-O (Barbara O. Jones), Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Tommy Hicks, Bahni Turpin.

35mm, color, 112 min.

Fully timed second answer print struck from original 35mm color internegative. Laboratory services provided by Janice Allen, Cinema Arts, Inc.

Preceded by:

Four Women  (1975)

New print!

Directed by Julie Dash

Set to Nina Simone’s stirring ballad of the same name, Julie Dash’s dance film features Linda Martina Young as strong “Aunt Sarah,” tragic mulatto “Saffronia,” sensuous “Sweet Thing” and militant “Peaches.” Kinetic camerawork and editing, richly colored lighting, and meticulous costume, makeup and hair design work together with Young’s sensitive performance to turn longstanding Black female stereotypes to oblique, critical angles. —Jacqueline Stewart

Producer: Winfred Tennison. Cinematographer: Robert Maxwell. Editor: Julie Dash. Cast: Linda Martina Young.

16mm, color, 7 min.

New print struck from the original 16mm color negative A/B rolls and the original 16mm track negative.