Daughters of the Dust

Julie Dash delivers a rich tapestry of overlapping pan-generational narratives in Daughters of the Dust, the 1991 film that inspired much of the visuals in Beyoncé's Lemonade

Film Review by Adam Stafford | 02 Jun 2017
Film title: Daughters of the Dust
Director: Julie Dash
Starring: Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbara-O, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Trula Hoosier, Vertamae Grosvenor, Kaycee Moore
Release date: 26 Jun
Certificate: PG

Thanks to Beyoncé’s 2016 visual album Lemonade, there has been a renewed interest in Julie Dash’s little-seen but culturally important independent feature Daughters of the Dust, from 1991, which became the first film theatrically distributed in the US by an African-American female director.

Dash's film centre is a family drama about a generational schism between the old ways and the path of the young. Set on South Carolina’s Sea Islands at the turn of the 20th Century – a milieu of rolling sand dunes shifting in the wind, radiant weeping willows and endless stretches of beach – a multi-generational family of the Gullah community (descendants of West African slaves) are reaching crisis-point as matriarch Nana Peazant (Day) is visited by her haughty granddaughter Yellow Mary (Barbara-O), who intends to convince the remaining family members to travel back to the mainland with her.

Day is captivating as the wizened elder of the family, whose powerful and poetic voiceover recounts the many hardships that her ancestors endured, from back-breaking farming labour to their hands turning a deep purple by the constant work in the indigo dye trade. The refusal to give up on the superstitions of her lineage in the face of pious Christianity preached by her offspring brings out a great melancholy to her character.

A rich tapestry of overlapping pan-generational narratives and the refusal to dilute the indigenous Yoruba dialect coupled with Arthur Jafa’s exquisite magic-hour cinematography keeps the film wholly engaging. However, in the end, the production is let down by a distracting, dated score (incessant throughout the film, it calls to mind a 1980s thriller rather than a 1900s period drama) and some overwrought performances that often give the picture a TV-movie feel.


BFI's package includes audio commentary and interview with Dash; Q&A with Dash and Cheryl Lynn Bruce from the 2016 Chicago Film Festival; illustrated booklet, essays and more. [Adam Stafford]

Released on Blu-ray by BFI

Daughters of the Dust is also rereleased in UK cinemas from 2 Jun http://bfi.org.uk