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'Daughters Of The Dust' Re-Released Following Attention From Beyoncé


Twenty-five years ago, Julie Dash made history when she became the first African-American woman to direct and produce a full-length feature film that was widely distributed in theaters across the country. The movie is "Daughters Of The Dust," and it follows the story of the Peazant family living on one of the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina, descendants of former slaves who'd sought refuge there as they prepared to start new lives on the U.S. mainland in 1902.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Morning will begin a new life for my children and me. Will begin They will carry my spirit and remain here with the old souls.

MARTIN: "Daughters Of The Dust" won rave reviews from some critics upon its release. The New York Times called it a film of spellbinding visual beauty. It's always had a cult following. But now the film has been newly restored and is being released again, which will allow an even bigger audience to see it.

"Daughters Of The Dust" opened this weekend in New York and will be playing in select theaters nationwide in the coming months. We asked Julie Dash to stop by our bureau in New York to talk about the film. And I started by asking her if she ever imagined she'd get a second chance to showcase it.

JULIE DASH: Actually, no (laughter). It was very much a surprise but a very pleasant surprise for me. Yeah, I just thought we were going to be working on the Blu-ray DVD. I did not know we would have a chance at a re-release.

MARTIN: Let's talk about the film itself. I mean, the culture and community at the center of it based in the Lowcountry, as we said, are known as Gullah. I understand that your dad was Gullah. Do I have that right?

DASH: Yes, you do.

MARTIN: Did you know much about his culture growing up as you did in New York?

DASH: I knew - well, they didn't call it Gullah back then. We were called Geechee. And I knew enough to know that you didn't let anyone from outside the family call you a Geechee. But definitely inside the house we were Geechees. And I knew that the whole family was very different. We were different from the other African-American families.

If you want to look at the food, it was the rice. We had rice every day. We loved seafood. We had seafood for breakfast when everyone else was having cereal. I didn't know when until I did independent research on my own when I was in graduate school that - why that Gullah/Geechee culture is so specific and authentic. And it's part of a larger continuum.

MARTIN: I'm betting it's a long story, but how did the idea of focusing the film on this particular community at this particular place and time come to you?

DASH: Well, the time was important, the time period because it was set in 1902. And that's, you know, the (unintelligible) - you know, the industrial revolution. And it was also very important because it's taking a look at the adult-born-free African-American person, the first generation of free-borns making decisions about their future. That was so very different from what we'd ever seen before on television or in feature films. And so I was passionate about showing and about redefining, if you will, how African-American women are seen in historical drama.

MARTIN: Let me play a clip and then you can tell us a little bit about it. And it's going to be - let me just tell people who are going to hear this - if you haven't seen the film, it's really impossible to pull all the threads together in just the short amount of time we have. But I do have to whet people's appetite, and then you can try to explain whatever you can and hopefully entice people to want to see more. But here it is.


ADISA ANDERSON: (As Eli Peazant) Just because we crossing over to the mainland, it doesn't mean we don't love it. It don't mean we're not going to miss you now and it don't mean we're not going to come home to visit with you soon.

CORA LEE DAY: (As Nana Peazant) Peazant, if you don't stop grinning at me - it ain't right that these old folks, especially your great-grandmother - you're lucky I got breath in me yet.

MARTIN: Just tell us - (laughter) I just love - tell us, for those who haven't seen the film, what's happening here.

DASH: Nana Peazant, the family matriarch, is pouting. She's upset because the family's migrating north. She's holding herself away from the rest of the family, and she's in a graveyard at that point in the story, pulling weeds and talking to her late husband Shad, when up out of the blue one of her grandchildren, Eli, comes to visit with her and teasing her and trying to make her smile and stop pouting about - you know, because he doesn't want her to be upset that they are leaving.

MARTIN: You're telling a story from over a century ago. But this whole idea of do I stay, do I go, what do my roots mean - seems fresh. Does it - I'm wondering to you when you see it, does it seem very real right now to you, very contemporary in a way to you, too?

DASH: Well, in that regard yes because, I mean, once you reach a certain age, everyone's leaving home, everyone's trying to strike out on their own. You may not be migrating north with the Great Migration, but you're certainly moving downtown to be with your friends or into your college dorm. And your parents are going to remain home with the old souls and you're happy and they're not so happy.

MARTIN: I think it is fair to say that many people saw these visuals revived earlier this year in Beyonce's visual album "Lemonade" with the girls in long white dresses. And "Lemonade" and the film do share similar themes such as the generational trauma, the whole question of what role your roots should play. And then let me just play a short clip from the visual album "Lemonade." And this is, of course, Beyonce's voice.


BEYONCE: Are you thankful? Are the hips that cracked the deep velvet of your mother and her mother and her mother? There is a curse that will be broken.

MARTIN: I have to ask you what you thought when you saw "Lemonade."

DASH: I was, in a word, enthralled. I was stunned. My mouth was hanging open a gap. I was so taken by the music, the visuals, the non-linear story structure. I was - I was in heaven. And it was like, oh, yeah, yeah, I'm supposed to be watching for the tree scene. So I was - I was very pleased. I was very pleased.

MARTIN: And, I mean, you are not just an inspiration to Beyonce. I mean, Ava DuVernay, many people will know from "Selma" and all the other work that she has done since. She's got a new film "13th." She told Vanity Fair that she had you to thank for her own success, which has to be great. But I have the sense that you still had to fight, you know, for every inch. Is that right?

DASH: This is true. Like myself, including so many other women filmmakers, we have not had it easy. But we're not giving up and we're not going away. We have voices that demand to be heard, and we have the passion for telling stories that demand that we manifest it, you know, that passion in another film.

MARTIN: That was filmmaker Julie Dash. Her film "Daughters Of The Dust" is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its initial release with a restoration. It's being released in New York this weekend and is headed to select theaters nationwide in the coming months. She was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York. Julie Dash, thank you so much for speaking with us.

DASH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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