Episode #48: Daughters of the Dust
Updated: Feb 27
Listen to Episode 48 of the Podcast here while you enjoy the show notes.
SUMMARY - Daughters of the Dust takes place in Ibo Landing in 1902. Viola Peazant and Yellow Mary are briefly returning home to the southern sea islands for a family reunion before saying their permanent goodbyes. Despite heartfelt protests from the matriarch Nana Peazant (played by Cora Lee Day), Viola, Yellow Mary and most of the Peazant family are heading north to the mainland to start a new life.
Screenplay by Julie Dash; Directed by Julie Dash, and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 1991.
A brief title card introduced the historical significance of the story.
Then we are immediately treated to the breathtaking cinematography as you will continue to see throughout this post.
We found it a little hard at times to figure out who is the "main" character but everything centers around the matriarch Nana.
The truth likely is that the culture and the people are the main characters as there are many different side stories that combine into one.
We don't stay focused on any particular character for very long and even when they are telling their story, there will be a lot of cut-away shots.
There is too much to be seen and said, after all.
The narration comes from an unborn child, but she gets a physical representation as this little girl with the blue ribbon in her hair. The movie transitions to a jittering slow motion effect whenever her presence is around.
Photography is also a theme as it is the next step in capturing and recording their history, something that has largely been done through verbal means previously.
We recommend watching this with subtitles. There are a couple of key passages that have in-movie captions, but generally they are absent. The movie is in English, but with a heavy regional accent and slightly varied sentence structure.
For those that are unaware (which included us), there are some historical stories to be learned here. Such as the mass suicide of one of the last slave ships to arrive at Ibo Landing. The movie certainly made us want to learn more.
Something that may be more familiar to people in the South is the concept of having empty bottles on trees. We talk about that as well, since we needed to know the significance when these were smashed.
The movie also touches on religion and the divide between Christian learning and Hoodoo. This comes to a head near the end when Nana asks them to participate in a Hoodoo ceremony before leaving as part of the Great Migration.
Awards Talk: At Sundance, Arthur Jafa won Best Cinematography and it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. It earned an NAACP Image nomination for Outstanding Motion Picture.
In 2004, the National Film Preservation Board put this movie on the National Film Registry.
And while not an award, it's worth mentioning that this was the first feature film made by an African-American woman to be distributed theatrically in the United States.
TRUE CRIME & POP CULTURE
This week we don't have any true crime segment or music to talk about so we jump right into TV.
Since we don't have an exact premiere date in January for the movie (we could not locate 1991 Sundance daily schedules to find its first showing), for TV we talked about the top 10 and bottom 5 shows the month.
One that didn't sound familiar to us was Haywire, so we looked it up and watched this odd mix of candid camera/sketch comedy.
The episode description says it aired Sept 1990, but there's a commercial for a movie that debuted January 1991 that says "out now." So either this is a re-run or the description is mistaken.
Here's some more info if you want to dive in - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haywire_(TV_series)
RANKINGS & RATINGS
Nikki 1-5 star scale - 5 out of 5
Jon 0-4 star scale - 3 1/2 out of 4
Would you watch it again? - Yes, absolutely. It is a rich, intricate film and the beginning of the first viewing can be a bit confusing since the presentation is not straight-forward. A re-watch will help discover new layers and get a better understanding of everything and everyone. Besides, the movie is gorgeous and captivating.
If you want to watch Daughters of the Dust, as of this recording in January 2022, it’s available on Tubi, Criterion Channel, TCM, Kanopy, Digital Rental, VHS, DVD. Check your local listings.
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