this is the film that inspired lemonade

With a 2017 cinematic re-release, Daughters of Dust is the influential bandwagon you need to jump on.

by Colin Crummy
21 June 2017, 7:35am

The 1991 film, Daughters of the Dust, has played mood board to some of the most significant African American cinema of the last number of years. Moonlight director Barry Jenkins has cited Dash as a major influence on his Oscar winning film; The 13th and Selma director Ava DuVernay calls her "the queen of it all."

All this bow down has helped Daughters of the Dust find its way back into the spotlight and this month a newly restored version of the 26-year-old film is in cinemas and out on DVD. But Dash's vision is iconic enough to not need bolstering.

Daughters of the Dust tells the story of the Peazant family, who in 1902 are planning to migrate from the Sea Islands off the coast of Carolina and Georgia to mainland America. There is conflict between those who see progress, culture and Christianity in the north, and those like the clan's great grandmother, who warns that African Americans are losing their connection to the past and, therefore, to themselves.

Like Lemonade, Daughters of the Dust is a visual and musical feast with an evocative score from John Barnes, a composer who worked with Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson. Visually, the film is unique celebration of black female gorgeousness. The Gullah -- or Geechee -- women are diverse and Dash pays purposeful attention to the pleasure and beauty of their hairstyles and fashion.

It is a groundbreaking depiction of black female beauty, helped in no small way by cinematographer Arthur Jafa, another artist whose work has swung back into the spotlight. His exhibition on black visual aesthetics, A Series of Utterly Improbable, Yet Extraordinary Renditions is on at the Serpentine Galleries in London until September.

Daughters is also a history lesson and Dash's singular vision came from her own heritage -- she comes from a Gullah family -- and a lifetime not seeing herself or anyone like her on screen. "I always knew I wanted to make films about African American women. To tell stories that had not been told," she noted in the gorgeous 1992 book about the making of Daughters. "To show images of our lives that had not been seen."

The results are dreamlike and experimental in structure. Though it struggled to find distribution initially, Daughters became the first U.S. cinema release by an African-American woman and 25 years on, retains its classic status. It is preserved in the National Film Registry in the U.S., where films are selected for being "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant." Daughters of the Dust is a film which is all three. Whether you want some further reading post-Lemonade or are biding your time until Jay Z's visual album drops (presumably with a whole new set of reference points to swot up on) this is the film to see this month.

Daughters of the Dust is in selected cinemas now and will be released on DVD/Blu-ray by the BFI on 26 June.


Text Colin Crummy

daughters of dust