Julie Dash / Cert 12A / 107 mins / USA, Germany (1991)

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"This is balletic, operatic cinema, and a celebration of cinema itself." Sight and Sound.  "A true original, and a fascinating insight into the roots of black culture in the US." Little White Lies   "The dreamlike film that inspired Beyoncé's 'Lemonade'."  ★★★★★  Guardian

This is the rhapsodic story of the Peazant family, who descend from West Africa and are, at the turn of the 20th century, living on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina.  In their cultural crucible the family maintains much of the traditions of their Yoruba ancestors, and matriarch Nana is the storyteller of the clan: “I am the first and the last… I am the silence that you cannot understand. I am the utterance of my name.” Like the snake in the Garden of Eden, two distant cousins who come to visit from the mainland bring stories of other ways of life, worldly pleasures and Christian worship.  As the clan debates whether to move to the mainland, a picture emerges of a proud people at a crossroads, choosing whether to embrace change or preserve an endangered past.

This is a remarkable film in many ways. It has an historic signifigance:  it was the first feature film directed by an African American woman to get a wide cinema release.  It transforms conventional narrative structure: the family's history is told mainly in snatches of conversation among the women.  And it is a rites-of-passage story with much violence, but presented with a gauzey, choreographed beauty that won the film a number of cinematography awards. It is a great travesty that first-time director Julie Dash was never given a real chance after this to progress as a filmmaker, but as of last year it was reported she was collaborating on a biopic of Angela Davis. That's something to look forward to!

This version was restored and remastered in 2016, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the film.  Click here for Dash's fascinating reflections on her film.

Click here to watch Daughters of the Dust in full, for free


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