Julie Dash, the first Black woman to have a film receive a full theatrical release in the United States, helped set the stage for several Black creatives of the present day. Her 1992 film Daughters of the Dust was a landmark film that examined themes close to Dash’s family roots.
Born on October 22, 1952 in New York City, Dash attended the City College of New York to study film. After earning her bachelor’s in 1974, Dash headed west to Los Angeles and studied film at the American Film Institute and UCLA Film School. While at UCLA, Dash linked up a growing arts movement comprised of African and African-American filmmakers known collectively as the L.A. Rebellion.
After working on a number of short films, including 1982’s Illusions starring Lonette McKee, Dash’s big break came in 1991 with the release of her first full-length film, Daughters of the Dust. The film focused on the lives of three generations of women of the Gullah people. Dash’s father was a native of the Sea Islands in South Carolina and Gullah himself. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, winning the Best Cinematography award in 1991.
The following year, the film was released to the general audience. Made independently for $800,000, the film was a critically-acclaimed work. While not a blockbuster in the traditional sense, it would help usher in the careers of other trailblazing women in Hollywood such as directors Darnell Martin, Dee Rees, and Ava DuVernay.
Dash never made another major motion picture, but she has been far from idle. She’s worked on several TV films, music videos and shorts. In 1997, Dash released Daughters of the Dust: The Novel book as a sequel to the film. She is currently filming a documentary, Travel Notes of a Geechie Girl, slated for a 2016 release.
In 2004, Daughters of the Dust was selected for entry into the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress.