Quick Review: “Daughters of the Dust” (1991)

I know I’m super late to the party, but I just recently watched (as in a few weeks ago) Julie Dash‘s “Daughters of the Dust” for the first time — little did I know what I was missing. This is an absolute work of art!!! Visually stunning and breathtaking with a glimpse into a culture rarely seen on the big screen — boy was this good!

As a Black South Carolinian, I’d say that I’m a little more versed on the Gullah/Geechee people than your average American, but by no means a scholar. I sought this movie out after reading that NY Times article about Criterion Collection‘s lack of African-American directors in their reportaire. The Criterion president said he didn’t understand this film — I don’t understand a lot of French New Wave films but I still appreciate them for their impact on the culture and film industry in general — and that’s the bare minimum of how he should have approached “Daughters of the Dust.” This is an important part of film history and culture — not only was it directed by a Black female (which at the time — and still today — was few and far in between), but it was hella good and gave voice to a people and culture unknown to many — let alone film audiences.

Set in 1902 off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia, it tells the story of a people and way of life having to contend with “progress” and modernization while keeping true to themselves. This film is rich, vibrant and beautiful. The eye that Dash and cinematographer Arthur Jafa had was impeccable. The Gullah culture is filled with traditions that were brought over through slavery with a rich heritage of storytelling (which was evident in the film’s storytelling within the storytelling). At it’s core, its a story about remembering your history…ancestry…our story and taking it with you anywhere you go. It’s about keeping and celebrating your culture — what’s seen as “oppression” (old ways vs new ways) vs freedom and modernity. But its also about resilience and not wallowing in old wounds or running from your past. “Daughters of the Dust” is an ode to the beauty of a people and place. It is gorgeous, raw, natural — rich in history and sensory delight. A definite must-watch for any Black person (a given) and most definitely anyone who considers themselves a film connoisseur! And after you watch this, watch the collection of Julie Dash‘s short films on Criterion Channel.

“Daughters of the Dust” is currently streaming on Criterion Channel.