Dash turned to family roots as inspiration for film/book
Born and raised in New York City, Julie Dash was introduced to the Gullah culture by her father and her relatives. Through their stories of life in the Gullah community, Dash learned about Gullah cooking, the language and their unique way of looking at the world.
In her 1992 book, Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman’s Story, Dash says she was introduced to filmmaking at 17. Finding her life’s passion, she studied film at the City College of New York, then moved to California, accepted a fellowship at the American Film Institute and received her masters at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“I always knew I wanted to make films about African American women. To tell stories that had not been told. To show images of our lives that had not been seen,” Dash says.
Remembering the stories of her youth, Dash first thought of making a short silent film about the migration of an African American family.
"I was making notes from stories and phrases I heard around my family, and became fascinated by a series of James Van Der Zee photos of black women at the turn of the century. The images and ideas combined and grew."
Once sparked, Dash began her research by approaching her relatives.
“When things got too personal, too close to memories they didn’t want to reveal, they would close up, push me away, tell me to go ask someone else. I knew then that the images I wanted to show, the story I wanted to tell, had to touch an audience the way it touched my family.”
In the late 1980s, Dash wrote the script and secured $800,000 to film on St. Helena and Hunting islands. Completed in 1991, she joined the festival circuit searching for a distributor. At her first festival, Sundance, the film drew praise and won for best cinematography.
When the movie opened nationwide in January 1992, Dash said she was filled with emotion.
“I was moved by the emotion on the faces of the people, especially older African Americans; I was proud to be contributing to the growing power of African American filmmakers, telling the stories of our people; and I was relieved that the voices of our women were finally being heard.”