what i watched
geezer cinema: ad astra (james gray, 2019)

african-american directors series/film fatales #63: daughters of the dust (julie dash, 1991)

This is the latest film I have watched in "My Letterboxd Season Challenge 2019-20", "A 33 week long challenge where the goal each week is to watch a previously unseen feature length film from a specified category." Week 7 is called "Director Recommendations: Spike Lee Week":

Though some may consider Spike Lee divisive and controversial, his devotion and contributions to cinema cannot be denied. Though he does have quite a few words to say on different directors, usually on the critical side, he made it a point to make a list of films he deems important for anyone looking to make films, and that's what we'll be looking at this week.

This week's challenge is to watch a previously unseen film from Spike Lee's list of Essential Films All Aspiring Directors Need to Watch.

It's easy to see why Spike Lee finds this movie essential. It was the first feature film directed by an African-American woman that was distributed theatrically in the United States. Dash had a lot of trouble getting it made, eventually bringing it in for under a million dollars. The end result makes a case for independence ... Daughters of the Dust showcases a culture that has been mostly ignored in mainstream films, and Dash holds nothing back, playing with time/narrative, making the movie as authentic to the Gullah as possible, and foregrounding women characters without demonizing the men. Most of the people both in front of and behind the camera were African-American.

All of this could be a confusing mess, and Dash does expect her audience to follow along at her pace rather than ours. But even if occasional instances are confusing, there is an overriding feel for the culture that brings everything together.

The actors are well-chosen for their faces, and Dash's ability to get the most out of those faces. The actors are not amateurs, though ... they may be unknown to me, but they are professionals who add to the documentary feel of some of the movie by blending in seamlessly with the ambiance.

This was Dash's first fictional feature, and despite the critical acclaim, she hasn't been able to make more. She is quite busy directing television, including a biopic about Rosa Parks and episodes of the series Queen Sugar. And Daughters of the Dust lives on within the people who have seen it ... Beyoncé was influenced by the film when she made Lemonade.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)

(Here is a letterboxd list of movies with African-American directors.)


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