'Dusting' Off a History You Don't Read About in School.....
D. Pawl | Seattle | 04/04/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"When asked what your knowledge of the history of the South encompassed what would you say? For me, it would be a brief overview of the Civil War, the Migration North for African Americans seeking a new life in the boroughs of New York and Chicago (among other places) and the Civil Rights Movement (with an emphasis on the life's work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., of course). There is so much more to this history that we don't commonly hear about in textbooks though. Specifically, the subject I am referring to is that of the Gullah, a group of African Americans who made their home in the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia. They are also known as Geechee. They spoke their own distinctive dialect, prepared Gullah rice dishes (like red rice and okra soup), and herbal medicines based on traditional African practices.
In DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST, a 1991 release directed by Julie Dash, we get a glimpse into the culture of the Gullah. I am not certain, but, I believe this may be the first and only film of its kind released in theaters to really explore them. The cinematography is beautiful and really is the highlight of this story. The colors are hypnotic and visual imagery rich. The subjects appear illuminated and have an ethereal glow.
Unfortunately, the emphasis on aesthetic beauty, here, does not carry into other aspects of the film. Scenes of the Gullah clan fighting, working, praying, performing ritual, falling in love, and reflecting on the deep wounds of ancestral pain are not presented in a linear or comprehensible way. I realize that in order to really comprehend what is going on, on a deeper level, it helps to have more of a background in the cultural practices of the Gullah. How many people truly have a grasp on this significance, though? It truly would have been wonderful if the director, Julie Dash, had been more inclusive of her audience. I almost sense that this film is a valentine to the past. We watch scenes of beautiful women walking along the shore, preaching gospel to young children, experiencing visitations from the spirit world and men struggling to make peace with themselves and their culture, in preparation to journey north, uprooting themselves from what they know. It's just a shame that the effect of the film comes across as being more of an indirect ode to a group of people more viewers ought to know about, as opposed to an insightful and enlightening work of historical fiction brought to the screen."