If you like movies that make you think, you will love Daughters of the Dust. This film is artsy and whimsical, but it’s also intellectually heavy. I love the way Julie Dash has brilliantly used complex imagery to tell the story of women torn between tradition and change. Much of the cinematography in Daughters of the Dust will make you feel as if you’re in someone’s dream sequence, restlessly trying to weave together the pieces of your experience. I’m telling you it’s unlike anything else you’ve ever seen.
Who Are The Gullah People?
Fittingly, I first saw the film Daughters of the Dust in 2000 after a trip down to the Gullah Islands in South Carolina. I went as part of a tour to visit one of the last remaining Geechee families with my Black Studies classmates.
I don’t remember the name of the island we visited, this was some twenty years ago but I do remember that it was an amazingly beautiful place, tranquil, wrapped in willow. While watching this film it really took me back, allowed me to reflect on all I had seen and experienced during my visit, and gave me a deeper appreciation for the people and the place.
The Gullah (/ˈɡʌlə/) people, who are also referred to as Geechee people. They are African Americans who live in the low country region of the U.S. states of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina. They also live in both the coastal plain and the Sea Islands. Geechee people speak their own unique creole language, also called Gullah, and their culture has African influences.
“Some scholars have suggested that it may come from the name of the Gola, an ethnic group living in the border area between present-day Sierra Leone and Liberia in West Africa, another area of enslaved ancestors of the Gullah people.”
Daughters of the Dust depicts the great migration when African Americans left in large numbers following emancipation to the north. It tells this story by examining the complex tapestry of the Peazant family members’ connections to each other. This connection is presented through their generational roles.
One particularly creative element of the film is that it is narrated from the perspective of the unborn child who is visualized as a spirit. What makes the unborn child even more significant is that she is supposed to be the child of Eula (Alva Rogers) and her Eli (Adisa Anderson). However, Eula was raped by a white man and Eli has an unspoken fear that the child might not be his.
Additionally, much of the story is also told from the focal point of Nana Peazant (Cora Lee Day), the family elder and living embodiment of Africa. She is the keeper of the African cultural ways and religious beliefs that the younger Christian members of the family see as detrimental to their progress.
Another character of note is the elegant and sophisticated Yellow Mary, Mary Peazant (Barbara-O), who has a traveling companion named Trula (Trula Hoosier), a woman the family thinks is her lover.
Oh yes, there is a lot to unpack in this movie. It illuminates a great deal many of the issues we grapple with in the Black community and within the Black family around our identity as a people, our place in American society, Eurocentric assimilation, and so many others. I highly recommend watching it, especially if you are Black and you have Black children that you are raising.
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 1902.—John Sacksteder
Director: Julie Dash
Writer: Julie Dash
Stars: Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbarao