The Ava DuVernay of Years Past

Praised by Ava DuVernay as “ahead of her time,” and acknowledged by Beyhive fans as the (unofficial) influence to Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” Julie Dash’s 1991 film – Daughters of the Dust – is long overdue for the widespread attention it deserves.

Set in the early 1900s, Daughters of the Dust, is an independently directed and produced film portraying three generations of Gullah women as they move through life’s transitions and transformations.

The film tells the story of the Peazant family, who as descendants of slaves, sought refuge off the coast of South Carolina. Though the work earned director Julie Dash the honor as the first African-American female director to achieve nationwide theatrical distribution, Dash struggled to gain traction for projects since, with one agency even telling her that she “had no future.

Some say that she was ahead of her time: that if produced today, alongside the likes of Queen Sugar, Underground, Selma, and even the remake of Roots, Daughters of the Dust would have (and should have) garnered the attention and follow-up that it truly deserved.

While studying at UCLA’s film school, Dash became part of a group of Black independent filmmakers called the L.A. Rebellion. The group resisted commercialization of the films, rather deciding to focus on raw realities and creating artistic products “influenced by avant-garde, Latin America, African and Russian cinema.”

To Dash, the Sea Islands in Gullah that are depicted in Daughters of the Dust, represent our very own “Ellis Island:” a place of port and departure where we can reconnect with our heritage and authentic truth.

While some may have criticized Beyonce’s Lemonade for using such a direct influence, Dash viewed the comparisons as “natural….a continuum of song, of manner, [and] motor habits that went undercover for a while because everyone was trying to integrate and be part of the melting pot…you don’t need to be in the melting pot. Why melt?”

Dash affirmatively told the story of a culture not often discussed and during a time when Hollywood wasn’t quite ready to hear. In 2016, Daughters of the Dust was re-released by Cohen Media Group but still garnered only $41,000. But it’s still not too late to support this iconic telling of our history.

D.C. Wilson