All photos of "Daughters of the Dust" unless otherwise stated.
In 1991 filmmaker Julie Dash released “Daughters of the Dust,” the first movie ever made by a black woman to receive national distribution. Not only is it statistically groundbreaking but its narrative technique and visual style are so unique and unprecedentedly feminine and black. In 1991 this movie seemed like an open call to new modes of African American movie-making, however 25 years later it still remains a mostly niche film kept alive by cinephiles and movie buffs. That is until lately, with the 25 year anniversary of Daughters of the Dust this year bringing a newly restored version of the film to DVD and, most significantly, the release of Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade” which draws so heavily on the visuals and themes of “Daughters of the Dust” you’d think Julie Dash herself had directed it.
Recently I made the trip to Columbus, Ohio to attend the premier of the movie’s new restoration where Julie Dash herself was also in attendance. Until lately the only versions you could find of this movie were of quite poor quality but even under the distortion of heavy pixelation, the visual language of the film didn’t stutter. Watching the restored version was like entering Oz. Over the course of one day in 1902, three generations of the Peazant family prepare to move from the South Carolina Sea Islands to the North, the “land of milk and honey” that thousands of African Americans sought during the Great Migration. The movie moves like a dream loosely woven to tell a story of family and memory that extends both back in history and beyond into the future. Despite their isolation the women and girls of the Peazant family dress in the height of Edwardian styles. Long, white cotton dresses with high collars and romantic detailing, ruffles and lace, and hems which billow across the sand in the Sea Island breeze. Indigo blue bleeds into the backdrop of every scene. It really feels like a waking dream, a story of Southern aesthetics and African American history that goes beyond the threadbare images of plantation homes, Scarlett O’Hara and mint juleps.
Beyonce in the "Formation" music video.
(L) Amandla Stenberg and Zendaya. (R) Quvenzhane Wallis and Blue Ivy Carter. Both images from Beyonce's "Lemonade"