29 Days Of Black History – Day 7: Daughters Of The Dust

 

Release Date:  Original Release Date: December 27, 1991
Genre:   Drama
Rating:  NR
Running Time:  112 mins.
Director:  Julie Dash
Studio:  American Playhouse, Geechee Girls, WMG Film, Kino International

Cast:
Cora Lee Day as Nana Peazant
Matriarch of the Peazant family, determined to stay on the island

Adisa Anderson as Eli Peazant
Nana’s grandson, torn between traveling north and staying on the island

Alva Rogers as Eula Peazant
Eli’s wife, who was raped by a white man and is now pregnant

Kay-Lynn Warren as Unborn Child
The spirit of Eula’s unborn child, who is Eli’s daughter, narrates much of the film
and magically appears as a young girl in some scenes before her birth

Kaycee Moore as Haagar Peazant
Nana’s strong-willed granddaughter-in-law, who is leading the migration north

Cheryl Lynn Bruce as Viola Peazant
One of Nana’s granddaughters, she has already moved to Philadelphia
and has become a fervent Christian

Tommy Hicks as Mr. Snead
A photographer from Philadelphia, engaged by Viola to document
the family’s life on the island before they leave it for the North

Bahni Turpin as Iona Peazant
Haagar’s daughter, in love with St. Julian, a Native American who will not leave the island

Cochise Anderson as St. Julien Lastchild

Barbara-O as Yellow Mary
Another of Nana’s granddaughters, she returns from the city for a final visit to the island,
along with her lover, Trula

Trula Hoosier as Trula
Yellow Mary’s young lover

Umar Abdurrahman as Bilal Muhammad
A practicing Muslim, and a pillar of the island community

Cornell Royal as “Daddy Mac” Peazan
Patriarch of the family

Details:  First feature film directed by an African-American woman distributed theatrically in the United States.  The movie is set in 1902 and tells the story of three generations of Gullah (also known as Geechee) women in the Peazant family on Saint Helena Island as they prepare to migrate to the North on the mainland.  Filmed on St. Helena Island in South Carolina, Daughters of the Dust gained critical praise for its lush visuals, Gullah dialogue and non-linear storytelling. The film is known for being the first by an African American woman to gain a general theatrical release.

Story:  Daughters of the Dust is set in 1902 and revolves around members of the Peazant family, Gullah islanders who live at Ibo Landing on St. Simons Island, off the Georgia coast.  Their ancestors were brought there as enslaved people centuries ago and the islanders developed a language—known as Gullah or Sea Island Creole English—and a culture that was creolized from West Africans of Ibo, Yoruba, Kikongo, Mende, and Twi origin and the cultures and languages of the British Isles, with the common variety of English.  Developed in their relative isolation of large plantations on the islands, the enslaved peoples’ unique culture and language have endured over time.

Narrated by the Unborn Child, the future daughter of Eli and Eula, whose voice is influenced by accounts of her ancestors, the film presents poetic visual images and circular narrative structures to represent the past, present and future for the Gullah, the majority of whom are about to embark for the mainland and a more modern way of life. The old ways are represented by community matriarch Nana Peazant, who practices African and Caribbean spiritual rituals and who says of the Unborn Child, “We are two people in one body. The last of the old and the first of the new.”

Contrasting cousins, Viola, a devout Christian, and Yellow Mary, a free spirit who has brought her lover, Trula, from the city, arrive at the island by canoe from their homes on the mainland for a last dinner with their family. Yellow Mary plans to leave for Nova Scotia after her visit. Mr. Snead, a mainland photographer, accompanies Viola and takes portraits of the islanders before they leave their way of life forever. Intertwined with these narratives is the marital rift between Eli and his wife Eula, who is about to give birth after being raped by a white man on the mainland. Eli struggles with the fact that the unborn child may not be his.

Several other family members’ stories unfold between these narratives. They include Haagar, a cousin who finds the old spiritual beliefs and provincialism of the island backwards, and is impatient to leave for a more modern society with its educational and economic opportunities. Her daughter Iona longs to be with her secret lover St. Julien Lastchild, a Native American, who will not leave the island.

While the women prepare a traditional meal for the feast at the beach, the men gather nearby in groups to talk. The children and teenagers practice religious rites and have a Bible-study session with Viola. Bilal Muhammad leads a Muslim prayer. Nana evokes the spirits of the family’s ancestors who worked on the island’s indigo plantations. Eula and Eli reveal the history and folklore of the slave uprising and mass suicide at Igbo Landing. The Peazant family members make their final decisions to leave the island for a new beginning, or stay behind and maintain their way of life.  Source:  Wikipedia; IMDB; listart; Giphy.com.

Trailer: