Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust is a poignant portrait of three generations of Gullah women (descendants of West African slaves) at the turn of the 20th century. One of the main creative inspirations for the historical imagery in Beyoncé’s recent celebrated visual album Lemonade, which has brought it renewed attention and critical acclaim, this beautiful, powerful drama was newly restored last year.
Screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October, it will be released by the BFI on 2 June 2017 in selected cinemas UK-wide, and at BFI Southbank as part of Unbound: Visions of the Black Feminine, a month long season of films created by and about black women. On 26 June it will be released on DVD and Blu-ray by the BFI in a Dual Format Edition.
Evocative and dreamlike – with magnificent, award-winning cinematography by Arthur Jafa (Eyes Wide Shut) (who has his first solo UK exhibition, “A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions” opening at London’s Serpentine Gallery on 8 June), Daughters of the Dust depicts the Peazant family’s struggle with the decision to migrate from their island home off the coast of South Carolina to the mainland in 1902.
The story is narrated by a character called Unborn Child and the structure follows the form of a ‘griot’ – West African storytellers who excel as orators, lyricists and musicians, and recall and recount a family’s history for formal occasions.
The atmospheric original musical score for Daughters of the Dust was created by John Barnes, a composer, producer and musician who has played with and collaborated with artists including Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, Herb Alpert, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. He assembled together a collection of musicians and musical styles to evoke the magic and mystery of the film’s themes.
Shot on location in just 28 days on a very small budget, the film was Julie Dash’s first feature and was the first feature directed by an African-American woman to be distributed theatrically in the USA (1992). It is preserved in the US National Film Registry by The Library of Congress, and Dash is the only African-American woman with a feature film inducted there. She went on to make other feature films and television drama and is now also a Distinguished Professor of Cinema, Television and Emerging Media at Morehouse College. She has published two books related to the film: Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African-American Woman’s Film (1992) and Daughters of the Dust: A Novel (1997), which is set 20 years after the film’s events.
The BFI’s re-release this summer not only brings a modern American classic back to the big screen again, for all cineastes to savour once more, but will make fascinating viewing for the many admirers of Beyoncé’s video work.
Daughters of the Dust screens at the BFI from June 2nd 2017; book tickets here.