Julie Dash – A Profile
By Claire Graman
I recently read an excellent article on the lack of black directors represented in the Criterion Collection. I was saddened, but not surprised. What did surprise me was that even among a paltry number of black directors, Julie Dash wasn’t represented. If any director deserves to be preserved and heralded, as Criterion does, for representing a unique, artistic contribution to film, it’s Dash. Apparently, the head of Criterion, Peter Becker, considered adding Dash’s masterpiece, Daughters of the Dust, to the collection, but declined, explaining: “I didn’t understand what I was looking at. I didn’t understand it for what it was. And I wasn’t talking with people who were going to help me.” To be fair, Daughters is a slow, artsy movie, but so are the films of Tarkovsky, Kiarostami, or any number of other directors currently represented in the collection.
Who is Julie Dash?
But let’s take a step back. Who is Julie Dash and why is she important? Born in 1952 in Queens, New York, she went on to study at UCLA’s film school, as part of the L.A. Rebellion. After political and racial upheaval of the late 1960s, UCLA accepted more students of color who “created a unique cinematic landscape as—over the course of two decades—students arrived, mentored one another and passed the torch to the next group.”
Daughters of the Dust
In 1991, Dash directed, wrote, and produced Daughters of the Dust, the first American feature by an African American woman to receive a general theatrical release. The film follows a black family in 1902 who live on an island off the coast of South Carolina and debate moving to the mainland and into modernity.
Inspiring Beyonce’s Lemonade
With a dreamlike quality, Dash explores the tension between retaining culture and tradition with escaping legacies of trauma and pain. The film’s legacy continues today. For example, its beautiful imagery inspired Beyonce’s visual album, Lemonade.
Angela Davis Biopic for Lionsgate
While Dash has been a prolific television director and college lecturer since Daughters, she will finally make her second theatrical film, an upcoming Angela Davis biopic for Lionsgate.
Watch Dash’s Film Illusions
If you have a minute, specifically 36 of them, check out her short film, Illusions (1982). This amazing film follows a black female film executive passing as white in 1940s Hollywood, struggling to change a racist industry from the inside. As she explains in monologue: “History is not what actually happens, even if it’s written in a book. The real history, the history that most people will remember and believe in is what they see on the silver screen. I wanted to be where history was made, where it is rewritten on film.”