Daughters of the Dust Screen 20 articles

Daughters of the Dust

1991

Daughters of the Dust Poster
  • John Barnes’s score straddles the tradition-versus-modernity divide with its fairly discreet yet still-audible use of synthesizers in addition to more traditional African instruments. And then there’s Dash’s visual syntax, languorously alternating between classical observation and a more advanced vocabulary of dream-like slow motion and impressionistic montage. The result remains as sui generis as ever: a lyrical meditation that feels like dipping into a warm bath of slowly disappearing memory.

  • Dash’s one and only feature doesn’t fulfill its ambitions and sometimes seems lost in its own narrative, but the originality and integrity of its conception set it apart; it summons an alternative iconography out of landscape, research, and dialect that even its clunkier moments can’t dispel. As such, it represents the lost mission of indie film: to express something different and completely non-commercial.

  • Lyrically distended in its folkloric meditations, with striking use of slow and slurred motion in certain interludes, this doesn't make much use of drama or narrative, and the musical score and performances occasionally seem at war with the period ambience. But the resources of the beautiful locations are exploited to the utmost, and Dash can be credited with an original, daring, and sincere conception.

  • It's beautiful and slowly deliberate about telling its kind of story, and that's apparently a crime. In what it does accomplish, though, Daughters of the Dust does something extraordinary. Its attention to those elements of culture, music, food, and dress that survived the Atlantic crossing from Africa to the New World positions the film solidly in the enterprise of "African retention," which seeks to revive those elements in a spirit of wholeness and continuity for today's African-Americans.

  • The film has a formal grace that is moving and profound... Daughters of the Dust calls up the elemental rhythms of the wind and the sea and transports the audience to new shores.

  • Dash brilliantly uses magical realism as a filmmaking device that’s reflective of the characters' ethereal culture. It was the first feature-length film by an African-American woman to receive theatrical release, and its historical context and female-oriented storyline set it apart from other films of the time and other films put out by fellow members of the L.A. Rebellion.

  • ++

    Sight & Sound: Nijla Mu'min
    September 07, 2015 | October 2015 Issue (p. 32)

    Dash captures the nuances of black womanhood in a natural environment – against rolling shores, backed by sprawling nature, in white dresses, with natural hair. The film stands as a landmark achievement not only in black cinema, but in independent cinema generally.

  • Its images are as immersive as they are elusive, with bodies always carefully situated in relation to each other as generations intermingle, conflict, and ultimately make their peace. Tableaux of the Peazant women show them as they dance, eat, argue, dream, grieve, and reminisce.

  • Every tracking shot and languorous zoom in Daughters carries a psychic weight; this is “poetic” or “lyrical” filmmaking from when cameras were heavier and apertures smaller, before entire movies were shot on Steadicam (a camera language that may have long since oxidized itself from long-take overexposure and the lure of infinite non-linear editing.)

  • The film move away from trying to serve as a replication of the historical record makes the film as much about Dash herself, whose rejection by Hollywood throughout the 1980s made the project's realization unachievable. Thus, the impossible telling of the tale is mirrored by an impossible tale, in the sense that the film pushes against being made accessible beyond Dash's own artistic interests.

  • Dash’s film is firstly a visual masterpiece. The islands are gorgeous, the actors are gorgeous; the hand-seamed costumes, the work of the boatwrights, the food; all gorgeous. (The beachside feast scene can appear on twenty-best lists of food scenes now, please.) The artist-led production design points to that vital act of seeing, and to the director’s intent to construct the complex moment of leaving that anchors the narrative.

  • Intimate scenes between people conversing on sundrenched sandy shores play out against composer John Barnes’s gorgeous percussion-based score, creating an impression of choreographed movement—between people, between homelands, and between moments in history—toward points of pleasing balance.

  • It abounds with stunning motifs and tableaux, the iconography seemingly sourced from dreams as much as from history and folklore. But however seductive and trance-inducing, the visual splendor of Dash's film is never vaporous. She is particularly attuned to the movement and carriage of bodies.

  • It’s a movie that runs less than two hours and feels like three or four—not in sitting time but in substance, in historical scope and depth of emotion, in the number of characters it brings to life and the novelistic subtlety of the connections between them, in the profusion of its ideas and the cinematic imagination with which they’re realized, in the sensuous beauty of its images and sounds and the indelibly exalted gestures that it impresses on one’s memory.

  • All good period pieces achieve and sustain a sense of immersion in a different time and place. “Daughters of the Dust” goes further than most. Its examination of a bygone way of life is so patient and evocative, so beholden to its own storytelling conventions and rhythms, that watching it is a bit like submitting to a form of time travel. You emerge from the experience feeling slightly dazed and disoriented, but also deeply and thoroughly ravished.

  • Less than 10 minutes into Dash’s masterpiece, and like Mary with the kaleidoscope, I’m mesmerized. There’s no unseeing Daughters of the Dust. All at once, it lodges itself inside of you while dislodging any notions one has about storytelling as it relates to ancestry and the dead, recall, migration, movement in general, camera zooms and black womanhood.

  • The film breathlessly traverses the island’s physical terrain while also being spellbound by the character’s powerful monologues. Very often the entire film feels like one long montage where past and present images fuse together with every spoken word. The lingering traumas of slavery are still very much apparent. Yet Dash brilliantly captures a sense of resilience that has been passed down between generations through the “scarps of memories” they so often share.

  • It seems a small but unsurprising tragedy that American director, author and academic, Julie Dash, has not been able to make films at a frequency more in line with her white, male compatriots. Daughters of the Dust is her rhapsodic 1991 debut feature, and it exhibits a unique cinematic voice from the get go. It also hints at the future treasures she will forge, while being a mellifluous, meandering and heartfelt screen chimera in its own right.

  • The film is directed by Julie Dash, hero of the L.A. Rebellion. Dash's name ought to be spoken with the same kind of reverence we reserve for Martin Scorsese or Yasujiro Ozu, but she was cheated out of a career. And now Daughters must stand as a testament to her monumental, awe-inspiring talent and ambition. She gave her people a voice when they needed it most. And that voice will be heard as long as it needs to be, to inspire women just like her to speak it again on film.

  • An emotional and philosophical journey into a complex history and how it could carry into a potential future. . . . Arthur Jaffa’s cinematography helps make these spiritual and very real questions as ungraspable yet vivid as one of these dreams that is filled with half-memories and old stories we’ve only heard but that come to become our own.

More Links