Director Julie Dash talks Daughters of the Dust, an under-seen classic that’s finally being re-introduced to the mainstream.
by Yohana Desta
In 1991, Julie Dash’s sumptuous film Daughters of the Dust broke ground as the first movie directed by a black woman to get a wide theatrical release. Since then, the gorgeous tone poem about a Gullah family in 1902 has continued to gather accolades. It was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004, and recently served as a heavy inspiration for Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade. Now, the film is being re-introduced to the mainstream in a splashy new way—the Cohen Media Group has created a rich 2K restoration that will be screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, then released in theaters again this November. (Watch the exclusive new trailer above to see the film restored in all its fresh, new glory, and scroll down to see the glossy new poster.)
In a phone interview with V.F., Dash calls the new release “exciting.”
“I never imagined it would be released again,” she says.
For the record, Dash is also a huge fan of Lemonade—and says that the visual album actually helped Daughters on the road to restoration. Read on to see her thoughts about Beyoncé, Hollywood, and whether she’d ever make a sequel to her classic film.
Vanity Fair: Were you paying attention at all to Lemonade, to the Beyoncé film?
Julie Dash: Yes. My phone blew up the night Lemonade came on and my Web site shut down . . . someone called me and said Daughters of the Dust is trending on Twitter. And I said, “No, it must be something else,” and they said, “No, it’s trending!” And I looked and it was, and it was so funny. It just tickled me to death. So I finally got a chance to see Lemonade and I was just very pleased. Lemonade is just—it breaks new ground. It’s a masterpiece.
It’s a tone poem, a visual tone poem with various stories going on—vignettes. It’s just all visual, and it’s like yes.
It was a very, very obvious reference to you. Did Beyoncé reach out to you at any point?
No, no, nothing, no, no. I don’t know, I just love what she and her sister [Solange] do, what they represent. . . . They re-imagine and redefine the diaspora. And it’s just like, ugh—sumptuous. Just sumptuous. I loved it. Every bit of it.
Did Lemonade have anything to do with the Cohen Media Group bringing the film back to theaters, or was that already in the works?
It was already in the works, but everything sped up at that point. The funniest thing was, I got a tweet from my daughter who said, “O.K., welcome to the Beyhive.”
I’m glad you were a fan of Lemonade, because she certainly paid heavy tribute.
Oh my God, yeah! Yes, yes, yes. It just took me places that I had not been seeing in a long, long time. It just re-confirmed a lot of things that I know to be true about visual style and visual metaphors. And the use of visual metaphors in creating, redefining, and re-framing a Creole culture within this new world.
I know you wrote a novel sequel to Daughters of the Dust. Are you interested in making a film sequel as well?
Of course! I have pitched part two to every major movie studio out there. I got wonderful coverage from ICM years ago on the book, but I have not been able to get financing from it. I’ve not been able to penetrate that whole Hollywood financing thing. But who knows? I’m still optimistic. But yes, we tried very, very hard.
You broke ground as the first African-American woman to direct a wide theatrical release, which is shocking, but there are still barriers that need to be broken. For example, Ava DuVernay just became the first black female filmmaker to make a $100 million movie.
Absolutely. And we’re right behind her, like yay! It’s just wonderful. We hate to have to say the first to only this, the first to only that, but it’s true, you know? This is a huge accomplishment.
Just like when people say, “Well, how do you feel being the one who was able to get that theatrical release?” I wasn’t even thinking about it at the time, because I knew female filmmakers who came before me who had made features, but they were not able to get a theatrical release. So on the one hand you’re happy; but on the other hand you’re asking, like, why is there only one at a time?
What would you recommend studios do to change this, so we don’t have to continually have firsts every decade or so?
To provide access and opportunity to people who have shown that they have an audience, number one. ’Cause clearly I have an audience, ’cause I’ve been traveling with Daughters of the Dust for the last 25 years around the world to sold-out venues.
And to two . . . take a look at the work that we’ve been pitching. People say, “Well, don’t you have any ideas?” Of course I have ideas, of course I’ve optioned books, of course I’ve written new screenplays—I have a stack of them. But there’s a lack of access to these people and also the opportunity to go forward with something unless you have an angel at your side who helps to promote that.
We need to get Beyoncé into [producing] movies.
[laughs] Maybe I can find an angel within the Beyhive, yes! Wouldn’t that be nice?
A new poster for the restored 1991 film Daughters of the Dust.
Courtesy of the Cohen Media Group.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Re-posted for Black Chick Media with the permission of Julie Dash.