Julie Dash was interviewed by Cassie da Costa and the conversation drips with time traveling black women who move from slavery to freedom and back…
“On the 25th anniversary of Daughters of the Dust, the director talks about challenging traditional narratives—on and off screen:”
“Dash: And it started even before we got down there. With Kerry, we were pulling images as references for the indigo plantation flashback scene, and Kerry actually built those indigo dyeing mounds, all based upon what we could find or pull together or read about about how they did it in West Africa as the foundation for what was done here. I believe we were the very first ever to have indigo as a visual theme or motif that went throughout the story. I decided, instead of showing the form of enslaved people with whip marks or scars of slavery, their scars would be the permanent blue hands from working the indigo fields, and that’s how you could tell who was a former enslaved person of the elders.”
da Costa: Daughters plays with this notion of time not as a linear thing, but as something that is interwoven and overlapping—from the grandmother to the mother to the daughter to the daughter’s daughter.
Dash: I think people can see now, and people weren’t able to understand before, but it’s sci-fi, it’s a special fiction. And people said, oh, no, it’s a historical film. It’s a meditation—it’s a cinema of ideas and what-ifs and how-sos. It’s a conversation.
Dash: I was sure I was going to be able to move right from there [Daughters of the Dust] to make some more theatrical films. I wrote, I had a ton of screenplays and ideas, and I was taking meetings everywhere. And that’s when I hit that glass ceiling. Bang! I went to ICM first, and then I went to CAA, and they kept throwing stories to me about the Klu Klux Klan. They had a stack of old screenplays and they were just sending them. And that’s just not what I was trying to make films about, and I would tell them about the African American women who served overseas during World War II or the Colored Conjurers, about a family of magicians—and they said, “Oh, musicians?” and I said, “No, magicians.” “Oh, I’ve never heard of that.” And if they’d never heard of that, they’d shut down. They weren’t interested in the women who were the black soldiers who served overseas, they weren’t interested in my story Digital Diva, about a black woman who was an encryption specialist. All the studios kept telling me no, but now you have all these encryption stories, Mr. Robot.
Dash: It hasn’t stopped me from working in the independent sector. I was working for Disney, Imagineering, designing multimedia pavilions. I worked for the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center museum making a $1.5 million film that plays there continually. I’m still writing and I’m still making films. I’ve never stopped. That’s the thing that some people don’t understand. They think that if you don’t get a Hollywood film you just stop in your tracks and become a nurse. I’m a filmmaker, I was a filmmaker long before those people were in the studios, probably, and I think it’s a little bit too late to turn and run now. This is what I do: I make a film, and if I can’t make a film, I teach, or I teach while I make it. I will always be a writer. Filmmaking is filmmaking. I tell stories, I like to take an idea and turn it into something visual that’s compelling, exciting, meaningful. And that’s the task at hand no matter whether it’s a five-minute-30-second commercial spot or a feature film. That’s what I enjoy doing and that’s what I have been doing.