Written, produced and directed by Julie Dash the film Daughters of the Dust is a modern classic. Not only because it was the first major independent film by an African-American woman, but because it is a story of the magick, mystery, and heritage of a culture. Much to our delight this is a story told by one of it’s own. The film begins with a title card telling us about the Gullah people :
“As a result of their isolation, the Gullah created and maintained a distinct, imaginative and original African American culture. Gullah communities recalled, remembered and recollected much of what their ancestors brought with then from Africa… ”
Produced in 1991 I write about this film here not not because it is new, but because it is a classic that many may have missed. I won’t reveal any spoilers here, you really should seek it out for yourselves. The film is full of much ancestor wisdom, The characters tell us “It’s up to the living to keep in touch with the dead.” Theirs is a world of white dresses and bottle tress, a land apart literally. The time is 1902 and their space and time are turning points literally and figuratively . Creatively navigating these changes Daughters of the Dust tells a positive tale of survival and “growing older, wiser, and stronger.”
Nana Peazant played by Cora Lee Day is the mystic matriarch of the family. She stands as both a beacon of the past, and an
arbiter of the future. In point of fact this film is a patchwork of feminine realities sewn together with an artful hand. There are women who salute the past, and those who mock it. There are females who embrace and are embraced by the culture, and those who will remain outsiders no matter where they stand.
The New York Times review at the time called the film representative of the “demise of a tradition,” now almost 25 years later I am still hoping against hope that this isn’t true. Many people still practice root work, but they look very different from the characters Ms. Dash depicts in her film. Julie Dash has continued to make films, please check out her youtube channel for more information.
This is a beautiful film that deeply moves your spirit and your soul. Daughters of the Dust is a creatively woven cinematic journey that the likes of which have not been duplicated. It definitely makes the top ten list here at Voodoo Universe of must see films about African-American traditional religion.