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NUNN ON ONE: MOVIES Julie Dash talks 'Daughters of the Dust'
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2016-11-16

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Filmmaker Julie Dash has left her mark on the world by making the first full-length feature by a African-American woman in general theatrical release in the United States debuting in 1992. The historic Daughters of the Dust went on to be included in the National Film Registry in the Library of Congress.

After receiving an MFA in motion picture and television production from the UCLA Film School, she made several television movies such as The Rosa Parks Story, which stars Angela Bassett.

Daughters has a new resurgence, with Cohen Media Group's 2K restoration and Beyonce's Lemonade visual album having some inspirations from it.

Windy City Times: Great to see you visiting Chicago. Where do you call home now?

Julie Dash: Atlanta. I commute between there and D.C. I teach at Morehouse and Howard. I really live in Los Angeles. I have an apartment in Atlanta.

WCT: Where are you from, originally?

JD: I'm from New York City. I went to City University of New York and majored in film there. Before that I was a film student at the Studio Museum in Harlem while still in high school.

WCT: Did you see yourself in this industry?

JD: No. It was an after-school program that was a lot of fun. We were able to watch foreign films. It was the technology that I was drawn to. It was like The Wizard of Oz, a lot of gizmos and gadgets. By the time I got to college I had been doing it already so decided to major in it.

After I graduated I went to the American Film Institute for two years. I then graduated UCLA as a MFA. The rest is history!

WCT: After working on so many TV shows, do you have a favorite?

JD: Because I am a DGA, I get to do a rewrite. Most of the things I have done such as The Rosa Parks Story and Funny Valentine were rewrites.

I did write my segment of Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground. It was written from scratch.

WCT: Your film Diary of an African Nun stuck out to this Nunn.

JD: That was a long time ago. I did that when I was at UCLA and I shot it in super 8. That project won and has since been blown up to 35 mm.

WCT: Some may not know you directed Tracy Chapman's video for "Give Me One Reason."

JD: That was a good one. I was very lucky to do those music videos. I did some commercial work for Coca-Cola and GMC.

WCT: When did Daughters of the Dust premiere, originally?

JD: In 1991. It was a surprise opening and continues to be because it was picked up by Cohen Media to be released as a Blu-ray DVD. We didn't plan on releasing it again theatrically but then Lemonade came out. They were excited to do it.

WCT: Explain Gullah and Geechee.

JD: They are descendants of once enslaved Africans along the Atlantic coast. There are little barrier islands from North Carolina down to Florida. That is where they lived. They still reside there and there are only about 250,000 now. Other people live there too and there are resorts in that area.

What makes Geechee and Gullah unique is there were no bridges constructed prior to the '20s and the people that lived there were almost pure African in the style of cooking, religious beliefs and speech.

The language is many ethnic varieties. Even on the set some of the actors were nervous about speaking it. Their teachers had banned them from speaking it.

WCT: Why is that?

JD: Because it was considered ignorant. Sometimes it was only spoken at home.

WCT: It must have been important for you to get this story out.

JD: Absolutely. I found it fascinating. My father's family comes from that region and he had Geechee accent.

WCT: Talk about the lesbian character in Daughters of the Dust.

JD: I created Yellow Mary as a woman of independent means. Having her as a sex worker made her independent at the turn of the century. Many of the prostitutes of that time had relationships with other prostitutes.

It is a comment on the African-American community. Because she is called Yellow Mary because of her light skin, I have her returning home with someone even lighter than her. My comment is that no one should be called "Red Joe" or "Yellow Mary" because of their complexion.

Eula Peazant doesn't speak. People eventually notice that her and Yellow Mary are very affectionate with each other. It gives another layer for the Peazant women to dislike Yellow Mary not only because of the complexion of her skin.

WCT: Where did you find the actors?

JD: All of the lead actors were participants in independent Black cinema for many years. It was an homage to them.

WCT: Since you wrote a book for the sequel, would you ever want to make it into a film?

JD: Of course. I pitched it everywhere. There were no takers. Daughters of the Dust is an interesting experiment because it has been out for 26 years. Every year it has played in some country somewhere. It was slowly embraced here in America.

WCT: What are you working on now?

JD: Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. It is the life story of Vertamae Smart-Grovsvenor. She is the one that gave me courage to write Daughters of the Dust as a movie. She wrote a book called Vibration Cooking: Or the Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl. It has recipes combined with storytelling and is very inspirational.

Daughters of the Dust opens Nov. 25 in Chicago. Visit JulieDash.tv for more .


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