Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (1991) is a beautifully photographed portrait of a culture and a time with which undoubtedly few are very familiar: The Gullah community and sea islands off the coast of Georgia and South Carolina, circa 1902.
The sumptuous white sands and surf of the place are so cleanly inviting—one is mystified as to why anyone would want to leave there and go to the mainland at all; but I guess the leaving is more than simple physical relocation—it is both a real and metaphoric step out of the past and into the present/future for the Peazant family.
Like other families torn between the ‘progressive’ melting pot of early twentieth-century America and their native-cultural identities (the Irish, the Italians, etc.) the Peazants have the added pain and confusion particular to descendents of those who suffered as slaves. The Peazant family becomes—if not spiritually or lovingly—physically and culturally divided. Interestingly, some of the family members that choose to stay on the island (exemplifying one side of the cultural division) are oppositional in gender, generation and experience. The old matriarch Nana, great-granddaughter Eula and her husband Eli (consequentially, along with the “unborn”) choose to stay, as does cousin “Yellow” Mary—who recently arrived home amidst controversy over her stint as a prostitute in Cuba.
The future of the Peazant family tree is sure to maintain strong roots on this island—but it will also contain many branches that will arc and spread throughout North America. Finally, while viewing Daughters… I heard hooks’ idea of the “oppositional gaze” in the voice of Eula as she cried: “ Because we all (sic) good woman…Who (sic) we are and what we become? We wear our scars like armor for protection…Let’s live our lives without living in the fold of old wounds” (Dash 1991).