Daughters of the Dust (1991)

“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.” -IMDB

Daughters of the Dust (1991)

If you have never heard of Daughters of the Dust, you absolutely know the work that this film inspired. Namely, Beyonce’s Lemonade visual album. This film played a major role in shaping many of the images used in Lemonade, particularly images used towards the end of the album which displayed women in white in a southern landscape. So, all of you Beyonce fans out there should definitely add this film to your collection, if you want be taken seriously by the Beehive.

Daughters of the Dust follows the Peazent family, who are members of the Gullah community, living at Ibo Landing on Datwan Island, off the coast of Georgia. Although the family has lived on the island for centuries as the descendents of enslaved West Africans, the film begins in 1902 as the family prepares to embark to the mainland and onward to the north. Some in the family, particularly one of its matriarchs, Nana Peazent, choose to remain on the island and this creates tension over the reasons some choose to stay and others choose to go. Over their final 24 hours together, the family delves into their personal and social histories, helping the audience further understand why each member has made their particular decision.

Although this film focuses on a particular social group, it touches on subjects which are universal. It focuses particularly on the relationship between youths and elders and how tension between the two is both necessary and inevitable. The Peazent youths have largely adopted Christianity or lost their faiths all together, while Nana Peazent still practices many of the traditions past down by the Peazent ancestors. One particularly moving moment in the film is when Naza Peazent gives her granddaughter a pouch in which she has placed a lock of her hair. She explains that within this pouch lies a lock of her mother’s hair, which was given to her in the final moments before her mother was sold away from her. She emphasizes the importance of the generations staying connected to one another at all costs.

There are many moments in this film, conveyed through both dialogue and visuals, which touch upon generational trauma. Two of these have particularly stayed with me after watching the film. The first is another conversation with Nana Peazent, where she discusses the importance of generational memory, passed down particularly among mothers and daughters. She explains that since enslaved communities could not write down the births, sales, and deaths of their families, it had to be memorized or else these ties would be lost. Another moment is when the family discusses the Igbo Landing rebellion, the true story of a group of African captives who took control of the slave ship transporting them and chose to walk back into the ocean and commit suicide rather than submit to slavery. It is an extremely moving film which touches on the strength and adaptability necessary for a family, a community, a society to survive.

Daughters of the Dust feels more like an art piece than a movie. It is uniquely beautiful, but, like with any art piece, I understand how it may not be for everyone. And this is not because of the subject matter, but because it may just be too artsy for someone who is just wanting to watch an entertaining, escapist movie for a couple of hours. However, if you do decide it is for you, I think you will find it to be both visually stunning and emotionally provocative.

RATING: Worth the watch, although I can see how it may be too indie for some people. If you can make it through, it is a beautiful piece of art and culture!

If you like this movie, you should also watch: The Watermelon Woman, Never Rarely Sometimes Always

With: Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbarao

Directed By: Julie Dash

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