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Daughters of The Dust was produced by Geechee Girls and American Playhouse
Company. The movie main focus is on the Peazant women. Nana Peazant is
played by Cora Lee Day, and Eula, her granddaughter, is played by Alva
Rogers who is pregnant and has been raped by a landowner. Nana's
granddaughter, Yellow Mary, is played by Barbara-O who is returning, with
her friend Trula, from the mainland and her life as a prostitute and wet
nurse. Haggar, who has married into the family, is played by Kaycee Moore
and wants nothing to do with the old traditions. Similarly, the Christian
Viola, played by Cheryl Lynn Bruce, is returning from her life on the
Daughters of the Dust is a film written and directed by Julie Dash. It tells the story of a family of African-Americans who have lived for many years on a Southern offshore island, and of how they come together one day in 1902 to celebrate their ancestors before some of them leave for the North. The film is narrated by an unborn child, and ancestors already dead also seem to be as present as the living.
Julie Dash underwent many hardships in bringing the story to the silver screen. She had severe budget constraints, filmed in mosquito and insect infested areas, was delayed by Hurricane Hugo, sidetracked by sudden and violent sandstorms, and was forced to decide to either have a child or make the movie. In the end, she choose to give birth and nurture the story Daugthers of the Dust and the result is an unconventional masterpiece.
Initially, the response by white male critics was not favorable and they accused Dash of not adequately explaining the Gullah people, their culture, and their religious traditions. While attacking Dash, these critics failed to acknowledge many positive aspects of the film. The reasons behind this, according to Bell Hooks, is that "we've never been taught, most of us, in any history class that black people had different languages, had different religious practices, etc. So, to some extent, the film represents that challenge to a critic of any race" to review something they are not familiar with.
Because of these reviews and the fact that movie tells the story of African American women in an unconventional manner, it would seem to have slim commercial prospects. However, through word of mouth and some positive reviews it was able to generate a cult following. To date, the film has grossed 1.6 million from a budget of only 800,000.
The Newark Black Film Festival has chosen Daughters as the Film of The Century while the British Film Institute's Sight and Sound Magazine chose the soundtrack as one of the best in the past 25 years. It also received the Best Cinematography award at the Sundance Film Festival in 1991.
I believe the film hits the viewer on various levels. By placing the story in the early 1900's, Dash is able to show us a turbulent time for African-Americans and address many issues such as migration, lynching, and the changing African-American culture. Dash also shows and teaches us about Ibo culture and it's importance in the lives of those inhabiting the Sea Coast Islands, not just the African-Americans sharing the Gullah culture, but also the Native Americans, Muslims, and Christians.
Daughters of the Dust is film that slits the eyes of spectators who have been fed only linear and simplistic narrative/plot dev'ts through hollywoodism and can't possibly fathom any other way of being/thinking. It is truly an excruciating film to watch for those who have not dreamt and lived the "double consciousness" of modernity, for those who do NOT want to recall and remember the fact of american quilombos, maroon societies, slave revolters and runaways who succesfully established another way of life, not based on european dominance. This story is about the struggles of maintaining that community in 1902, a turning point in the life of this one maroon society. Dash breaks with cinematic codes in her experimental reconstruction of historical memory...a forgotten episode in African american history, a forgotten place, re-calling back to life ancestors that had survived and thrived: The Gullahs, Peazant family, persisting, unerasable, as the unborn child running through our memory, coming out of our past, forging a new and alternative future: a future that rejects the limitations of western epistemology. The summoning of these images to screen from the unwritten (african) past provides its own logic and development which Dash successfully visualizes in a polyphonic tradition, many voices, multiple perspectives. She does not allow a simplistic and individualistic rendering of this history...NO!she allows the struggle of divergent african perspectives, Christian, Muslim, Africanist, Native American to emerge in the same frame, to address that age old question: To exist or not to exist, to bear witness or to forget. In order for this history to exist and bear witness, Julie Dash does not allow any conventional reductionary scheme of narrativity, her temporal references are not linear. Her story is told through palimpestic time, the past present and future, overlapping and disjunctive: rupturing our understanding of history/memory and identity. The conflict that drives the film's narrative is not individual ego/conventional good vs bad drama/or boy gets girl(Hollywoodism); the conflict is how will the communal memory of these African survivors be salvaged from the ravaging of modernism's erasure..We see the family eat their last supper as the rite of passage to a life on the other side, a side that the ancestors fought to diverge from...The film is testimony to the african ancestors and to the spirit of resistance of slave revolters. Many people have offered criticism of dash's "feminism." Feminism is a problematic concept to apply to this film, no it is not feminist, it is afro-centric, matri-focal, and woman, as bearer of culture and memory as mother to the community, becomes the embodiment of that struggle. (of course it is not "feminist": it doesn't speak about abortion law, equal pay, etc etc..this kind of feminism is eurocentric and simplistic..) Thank you Julie Dash, i am not african american but the tears poured down my face as i, too, recalled that life left behind, another time another place. A place where people, muslims/christians/indigenous or any other can actually co-exist peacefully side by side, respectful of each other's differences. The character who chose to leave her so called "civilized" mother at the last minute, to take off with her Native American lover..is one of the most powerful onscreen testimony of love between indigenous peoples that has ever been made.
A Feast For the Eyes, Ears, And Heart, March 26, 2001 Reviewer: Angela Jefferson (see more about me) from Memphis, Tn USA In the opening of her film, Daughters of the Dust, Julie Dash alerts the viewer that this is no ordinary African American story. Conversely, this is an American history lesson with African origins. A small informative note at the start of the film puts the entire movie in context. Without this explanatory foreword, many viewers would probably find the film hard to understand. Though the movie tells the story of the Peazant family's migration from the sea islands of the South, the story also gives a panoramic view of the Gullah culture at-large. Because the islands are isolated from the mainland states, the Gullah retain a distinct African ethnicity and culture. Ironically, the Peazants want to rid themselves of the old ways and heritage, thus beginning an exodus from the islands to the mainland. Taking place in 1902, just fifty years after the end of slavery, Daughter of the Dust explores the Peazant's struggle for survival and escape from poverty. The movie opens on the eve of the family's great migration to the mainland. A family celebration and farewell-of-sorts take place on the beach. The Peazants even hire a photographer to document this momentous occasion. As the movie progresses, the complexity of the family's departure from the island emerges. Difference and changing values mire the pending migration with conflict and strife. As the family prepares to leave, in search of a new life and better future, the film reveals the richness of the Gullah heritage. Narrations of "the unborn child" of Eli and Eula Peazant offer glimpses into problems the family has faced since their existence on the island. As explained by matriarch Nana Peazant, the Gullah are like "two people in one body." Though most Peazants were born in the Americas, their African heritage is forever evident. The internal conflicts of this duality haunt the family as they become ensnarled in battle, only to war against themselves. Through old African customs and rituals, such as glass bottle trees, salt water baths, and herb potions, Nana wants to ensure that the family stays together. Moreover, Nana, "the last of the old," has chosen to stay on the island. She celebrates everything that makes her who she is: the ugly and the good. She knows slavery and she knows freedom. Her life revolves around the continuation and strengthening of the Peazant family. Her rituals are often unappreciated and looked upon with scorn by other family members. Some family members are unwilling to grasp Nana's teachings and wisdom. They want to escape the island, to run away from the Gullah way of life. However, they cannot run from themselves. Just as Nana proclaims, they will always live a double life, no matter where they go. The trip to the mainland certainly cannot rid their indigo stained hands of its blue-blackish tint. Nor can the northern journey erase the memories of whom or what they are leaving. Unbeknownst to the younger Peazants, the duality, the recollections and remembrances, and the old way and traditions are gifts from their ancestors. Sadly, few are able to accept these gifts or comprehend their importance. Through authentic Gullah dialect, vivid imagery and colorful characters, Dash reveals the uniqueness of the Gullah people. A cousin, Yellow Mary, returns from Cuba to the island, facing the scorn of her people because she is a "ruint 'oman." Haggar, a bitter woman who wants nothing to do with the old Gullah ways, does not realize that she cannot rid herself of whom she is. For example, she despises the "old Africans," yet retains their ways in her speech and use of African colloquialisms. Another cousin, Viola is full of Christian religious fervor and against the heathen practices and nature-worshiping traditions of her people. Eula, who gives a heart- wrenching soliloquy at the end of the movie, bears the burden of pregnancy and rape by a white man. Eli, Eula's husband, represents the strength and future of the Peazant clan. Besides being adept at character development, Julie Dash effectively educates the viewer about African-American history. Tales of flying Africans, water-walking Ibo, Islamic religion, and slave trading are skillfully woven in small snatches throughout the film. We also see connections between African-Americans and Native Americans. The lessons learned from this film are too numerous. One must see the film more than once to appreciate all the information presented. Daughters of the Dust awakens all the senses. The beautiful cinematography transports viewers to a surreal place and time, creating a visual paradise. Each scene makes its introduction with mesmerizing African music, which aptly fits each setting. As the Gullah women prepare food for the feast, one cannot help but imagine the taste and smell of gumbo, shrimp, and crab. This movie also arouses the heart. One can easily identify and empathize with the characters' passion and sincerity. Often, the characters relay sentiments and convictions so convincingly, that it is hard to believe that the players were acting. Understanding complete passages is often difficult because of the beautiful and authentic tonality of the language. Nonetheless, the use of standard English could not have conveyed Dash's message as successfully. We should appreciate this film for its originality and courage. Stories such as these are hardly ever told. Most films neglect the eclectic nature of the African American community, usually focusing on only aspects that are familiar to the masses. Here, Julie Dash reaches beyond the boundaries that are set for African-American films. Equally as important is her ability and willingness to validate the African-American experience. She eloquently and subtly deals with difficult subjects such as slavery, self-hatred, feminism, color prejudices, and rape. Dash does not throw one viewpoint in your face. Conversely, Dash gives the viewer a front row seat into the lives of a remarkable people. We are then left to draw conclusions for ourselves. One feels liberated, proud, and honored to be allowed a window into their lives. The movie is a celebration of the African-American diaspora. The images, language, and music of Daughters of the Dust will linger in the minds of its fortunate viewers forever.
Julie Dash grew up in Long Island, New York and graduated from CCNY right after high school with a degree in film production. Dash moved to L.A. only to be rejected by UCLA's film department, but later accepted as a student of the American Film Institute through a fellowship. Grants then started rolling in and Dash was able to begin writing and shooting films which revolved around true historical portrayals and images of African woman such as depicted in Daughters of the Dust. This film was written, directed and then released by Julie Dash in 1991. The historical context of this film stretches from the time of the slave trade up to the summer of 1902, when the Peazant family left an island off the coast of South Carolina and headed north for the mainland. I would consider this film to be within the genre of modern melodrama because of the overly emotional acting styles, complex plot, long monologues and excellent musical score which seems to parallel the moods in each scene perfectly. I also found the mis en scene, as far as the setting, costume, figure movement and expression and cinematography to be very well done. This is an intense film definitely worth watching.
I really enjoyed this movie. Its been a few years since I've seen it and I saw it twice. As a matter of fact, I'll rent it again or buy it if I can. No plot (I don't get the other poster comments). The movie was about a family and every day life as I saw it. I enjoyed it because it was pleasant, no guns, no thugs (lol), just a simple movie about a family and a group of people I knew nothing about. I still want to visit that area in South Carolina one day. I also enjoyed the movie because the actors are not well known actors in my eyes. I get tired of seeing the same actors in movies. I will do some research on the Gullah (sp) people.
This is one of the finest black films of the last twenty years. Julie Dash has created an evocative portrait of African American life that still holds an African past in the cradle of everyday life. The film is also a brilliant depiction of gender relations in black communities. Daughters of the Dust presents a vital, spiritual, and haunting portrait of black women, their agency and their connection to a nurturing ancestral past. Very few films about black people seriously explore the deep spiritual connections between Old and New World, and fewer still look so carefully at a particular community. The Gullah people of the Sea Islands are a group that remains largely unknown in both mainstream and black culture. As group that has clearly adapted to life in a new place, they still demonstrate powerful connections to an African past. In their adaptation and connection, they show the strength and resilience of black communities and cultures.
Daughters of the Dust directed by Julie Dash is a cultural
perspective look into the lives of an African American family left on an
island years after being torn from their heritage of Africa for slavery
to have revolted and be left to themselves, stranded on the island off
coast of the Southern eastern coast and the family who live off the
with others who long to find their heritage. The film's story line is
developed in the one day where the family is getting ready to head to a
world on the main land. The internal conflict of the family between
relatives who no longer live on the island who have become part of the
culture of America post civil war and the family left on the island that
live by the old heritage and customs. The family on the island struggle
between their history and culture to the change of the times and the need
This film centers on the generations of the family from the young
who are filled with life then to the adults who are torn between their
decisions to leave to finally the center character, the elder grandmother
the family Nana. Nana's ways and beliefs that have been accepted by the
family their entire lives are now the only thing holding the family back
from their future off the island. The film focuses largely on the women
the family, displaying the differences of ones who that have lived on the
island and then those whom have lived off it. The lines divided between
two are evidently shown throughout the film. The women who lived off the
island no longer take to heart their heritage that Nana lives by. They
it to be uncivilized and against the teaching of the bible. There is the
scene in which the family after much struggle and torment accept Nana's
decision to stay and her heritage. The scene is of the entire family
gathered around the grandmother in which she has a lock of her hair and
others placed on a bible asking everyone to believe in the old ways and
her with her by kissing the hair and bible. Finally, the scene acts as
importance because one of the outside family members whom diligently
preaches and believes in Christianity gives in to Nana's request.
Daughters of the Dust cannot be explained without stating the mise en cinema. From the clothing to the shots of the landscape of the island all resemble the time and place of the film. Not only the background and clothes, but also the character themselves turn this limited distributed film into a believable representation of what people of this time would act and be. The storyline background of the slavery uprising actually having taken place on the island gives it enormous creditability. The shots of the island start the creditability of the film with shots of the women interacting with the water of the ocean and the rivers, the shots of the forest and trees, and finally the most significant may be when the women are preparing the dinner showing how their food is prepared with live seafood and spices gathered from the island. The mise en cinema is creditable because of the clothes as well; from Nana who has only a dress is indigo, which was the main produce to harvest by the slaves on the island to the white Victorian dress of the women from the main land.
Dash's Daughters of the Dust cannot be denied as a cultural perspective that's originality has touched on the transition to the new culture of African Americans and they past that many have forgotten after the postwar civil war era. Its cultural insight may have been directed to a certain selected target audience, but its look into the heritage of the people cannot be viewed as anything but a respectable insight of the times.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Let me start out by saying I'm a black man. I might not have any
business trying to figure out what Ms. Dash is trying to say. I do know
what does and doesn't work for me. I need subtitles. I don't need
obfuscation which I felt was the basic strategy employed here. There
may be a point in confusing the audience to a certain point but
eventually we'll need some things cleared up.
This is what I got from the film:
The slave trade continued awhile longer on these islands. I wasn't sure if slavery continued longer here than anywhere else(longer than in Galveston, TX). Forced incestuous mating and breeding took place here as well. The internal struggle to enter a new phase of life in a new place was affecting the entire family. The basic "action" in the film is the attempt to have a final family get-together without too much conflict and altercation. There are no white people in the film. There are a few Muslims and one Native American that is a key figure in the story. As pure visual experience the film had some wonderful, fleeting moments. Tommy Redmond Hicks is in it. Why did the light skinned girl run away near the end? The actress doing the child voice over was awful.
It doesn't work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
SPOILER BE AWARE OF A SPOILER
The film `Daughters of the Dust' is a film that gives us the audience a feeling of what happened to African Americans after slavery and before the modernization of the times. This film was set in 1902 and is set on an island with a group of African Americans who are all in some form or another part of the same family. The fascinating thing about this film is that there are multiple generations of people that live on this island. In this film the dilemma is that the family is getting ready to leave the island to go to the main continental United States. The problem is that many family members feel differently about this journey to the new world. However, they were not the first ones to decide to leave. One of their relatives Yellow Mary, and another went and left this island and returned to help the others to leave. This story takes so many different turns, and has so many stories in it. There is Yellow Mary's transformation from wanting to be on the move all the time; to deciding that she wishes to stay on the island she left in the long ago at the end of the film. There is the young girl who is in love with the Native American who helps them with the work. In the end she to stays on the island and leaves her over powering mother to go to the new world with her other children. This part of the film was not very detailed, however I believe this is the best part. Whenever the Native American was shown, it appeared that he was at one with nature, and understood more things than any of us will ever know. In one scene he wrote a letter to the girl that he loved and that loved him. While she was reading the letter it was showing him sitting in a tree, and the view kept getting wider and further away. It made this man look very peaceful and caring. It also gave him the image most people have when they think of Native Americans in nature, at one with it. Another major part of this film revolved around the eldest of the group. They all called her Nana and she was so old that she had been around when there was slavery just like a few other members of the group. It was interesting how they showed the eldest people who were part of slavery had iodine permanently on their hands, to show that they worked on the plantations and dealt with what we all think of as slavery. Anyway, she was resistant to the whole family leaving this island of theirs. She wanted them all to stay and be a family, and to pass on the ways of the past to the future. Unfortunately, in the end the all left except for her, the young girl, Yellow Mary, and another couple. Finally, there is the story that revolves around the couple who are about to have a baby. The woman got pregnant by being raped, and the man did not know quite how to handle it. In the beginning the man was so happy to be going to the main land, and in the end they decided to stay there with the others. Throughout the film there was a narrator and the narrator was the unborn child, and she was discussing the story of what happened and led up to her mother and father staying on the island. The end was very powerful because it the make it very clear that it was very important for Nana to have the children born on this island, and she at least got to see the baby before she died. It was very powerful to have this narration throughout the film. Overall, I really did not enjoy this film but that is ok. It is just not the type of film I am use to watching. The drama films especially about family problems are my least favorite types of films, but I can see how some people would like it a lot.
A number of critics have lauded Daughters of the Dust (1991, hereafter DotD) for its rich composition, strong feminist themes and lyrical nature. It is hard to deny the powerful visuals of this film. The island the Peazant family inhabits is bright and colorful, with beautiful knarled old trees, the actors wear lush, vibrant clothing and the film stock itself is crisp and virtually flawless. The rest of the film disappoints, however. DotD is not feminist, definitely not lyrical, and is hampered throughout by overly pushy music. `Pushy' is not a particularly descriptive musical term, so we'll deal with it first. It does not deal with whether one likes the music in DotD, which is a subject depending mostly on whether one enjoys bad late eighties synthesizer music or not. No, this refers to the fact that the music, good or bad, is pushy. If the camera is panning over the trees, there is grandiose music, if there is happy scene, there is happy music, a sad scene, sad music, and so on. But it's all too loud. The music isn't in the background, enhancing the beautiful treeline or the actor's performances, it's right up front. It leaves no question, it screams out `This is sad! Understand?!' It tries to force a reaction, rather than helping that reaction develop. Until the music world gives the non-musically talented better tools than the whole Do-Re-Mi spiel to describe music. Unlike the music, the feminist aspects of DotD shouldn't force themselves on the view, because they of course don't exist. Yes, the Peazant family seems to defer to Nana Peazant, the elderly matriarch, which would seem to indicate a strong, dominant female. But the scale of DotD is too small for this. Yes, they defer to her for the one day the film takes place in, but what about yesterday? What about the times when the whole family is not together? It is very facetious to make her an example of feminism. As for the other women, they couldn't be more subservient. Yes, they seem to be running things, and they are the most vocal members of the family. But while they slave away making a meal, what are the men doing? Sitting on their butts on the beach making sand castles. Oh yes, very feminist. And as for the young girl who wants to stay on the island and be with her friend/lover, she is only able to escape because this man shows up on a horse and `rescues' her. The only way that scene could be more feminist would be if the young man knocked over her mother and then kicked her. As for lyrical, the pacing in the movie prevents any such thing. Between the somewhat elliptical narrative structure, people having long conversations and staring meaningfully off into the distance, and people having long conversations and then running around in slow motion, DotD is just plain slooooow. A movie needs to have rhythm to be lyrical, but DotD is simply so on and off that each new scene destroys the rhythm of the previous scene. It's like the triangle player hitting his triangle every four minutes while the rest of the orchestra starts and stops randomly. No one in their right mind would call that lyrical. It is a shame that a film with such rich mis-en-scene is so let down by all the other aspects. When analyzed objectively, Daughters of the Dust is not particularly feminist, with such slow pacing as to destroy any attempt at lyricism, and bombards the audience continually with its pushy, overly-aggressive soundtrack. Perhaps the professional critics were being too subjective, allowing their personal desires to color their viewing of the film. I know if I was a feminist critic, I would have a hard time declaring a film which the director said was feminist not feminist at all. As for my rating, I have devised an non-biased objective rating system, based on one to four stars, that I will give and then explained in objective detail. On a scale of one to four stars, this movie sucks.
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