Daughters of the Dust

My grandmother is from South Carolina and her grandmother was born a slave. 20 years ago, she asked me to take her to a film she read about in The Amsterdam News that was about her grandmother and “her people down south.” I had no idea what she was talking about, but I was sure any film she wanted to go to would not be something that interested me.

The film chronicles the lives of three generations of Gullah women. The Gullah people are African Americans who have maintained a rich cultural connection with their African ancestors. The Gullah of the Sea Islands, where Daughters of the Dust takes place, are thought to be of West African descent and their language, cooking, music, folklore, crafts and agricultural techniques reflect that ancestry.

South Carolina Gullah, about 1900. Charleston street Vendor.

After the first 30 seconds at Daughters of the Dust, I realized how little I knew about myself, my family, and my history. The mesmerizing and unforgettable visuals of African American women living on the Sea Islands are the backdrop for a compelling story about family and identity. Astoundingly,it was also the first film directed by an African American woman, Julie Dash, to be released in theaters.

I have had many conversations with my grandmother since we first experienced the film together about her life in South Carolina before she migrated to Brooklyn. Truly great art helps us see each other and our selves clearly. I thank Julie Dash for helping me see myself as I am.

by Robin Hayes

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