Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ – 4/5. Read my film review of Daughters of the Dust by clicking > here <
Interview by: Feargal Agard | Director: Julie Dash | Film: Daughters of the Dust (1991).
This year Julie Dash is visiting the Afropolitan Festival 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. Which has given me the chance to interview her. She will be screening her film Daughters of the Dust at the festival which will be followed by a Q & A afterwards.
The Afropolitan Festival.
“I’m very excited about this festival. One of the reasons why I immediately agreed to attend when I got the invite is because its just very important to participate with arts and events that have to do with the African diaspora.”
“This year’s theme ‘Black Artlantic’ is very interesting. At first I had no clue that it was connected to Paul Gilroy’s ‘Black Atlantic’. I may not know all of his writings to the fullest, but I know he is a great British-Caribbean philosopher and activist. We should all learn more about him and how Africans and the Black diaspora developed a form of nationalism all around the Atlantic ocean.”
“I have been going to the festival already and I love what they’ve got cooking up there. All the art, music and foods are just a feast for the eyes. I was able to see the exhibition of Kehinde Wiley which is up at the Bozar right now. Wiley did the portrait of former President Obama and in his exposition you see a lot of stained glass works and some other artworks that intrigue me. I love all these pieces of art, but there is also film, music, objects and much more. I want to see all of it.”
Inspiring people of color and even Beyoncé.
“It means quite a bit to me, becaus I know that I wasn’t the first black woman to direct a film. The difference is that I am the first black woman to direct a film that was widely shown and distributed. I came after Sarah Maldoror, Kathleen Collins and Sara Gomez. So, I know there were others before me. I also had the pleasure to meet some of them and I have been inspired by them. I am from the 70’s and now that I am older we all continue to inspire each other. Today I am inspired by other, young and new black female directors like Dee Rees and Ava DuVernay. Every generation has their own voice and artistic challenges and things that they need to say. In many ways my voice might be different from theirs and that’s all good.”
“I love that Daughters of the Dust has inspired so many. For you it’s 25 year ago for me it is even longer. We shot the film in 1989. It’s familiar to me and I recognize the people and the characters, but for me, it’s so long ago now. So I don’t think so much about it. Currently, I am thinking about the next project that I am working on and the next and the next. To me Daughters of the Dust is like an old friend. I remember my friend, but I don’t feel ownership. I guess what I mean to say with ownership is that there is an artistic distance.”
“Because after that I did Funny Valentines (1999), Love Song (2000) and The Rosa Parks Story (2002). I appreciate seeing Daughters of the Dust and people quoting lines from the movie where I’m like “oh cool!” I appreciate people taking it to another level. Of course one of the people who took it to another level is Beyoncé, who took it beyond! It is wonderful and she did a great job. I see it all as part of a continuum of ideas and aesthetics and a sensibility. But I did not own it. I did not create that. This form of sensibility has always been around. Even before I was born it was all part of an expression.”
“I never met Beyoncé, but I met her sister Solange. It was a good experience. Solange invited me and some friends down to New Orleans where she held a get together where films were being screened. We talked about art, fashion and all of these artistical things. It was great! It made me feel like a lot of Beyoncé’s artistic expressions also come from Solange, her friends and her family. What they talk about with each other and what they all want to achieve. I feel it’s in their family.”
The future of Black films.
“Oh my god! And I have to answer that right now?”, she said surprised, finding it a grand question.
“I think with Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther (2018) the world has changed in a significant way. There has been a seismic shift,” she laughs.
“I believe that this shift is going to profoundly affect black filmmakers and children of the ‘Atlantic’ and all over the world. Children are now able to see this film and grow up with this in their memory banks. We never had this before. It is a wonderful thing and its like a mothership moment. Not just for filmmakers or emergent filmmakers, but just for the general public. Because they are experiencing this seismic shift.”
“For years in the United States, every time black filmmakers pitched a movie idea or tried to do something. The curators of culture in Hollywood would say something like, “there is no audience for it. Or it will not sell overseas. Or black people don’t understand science fiction. Black people don’t want to see stuff like that.” The curators of culture have attempted to determine who we are, what we are, what our past was and what our future might be. But they were wrong and we knew that, but now they have been proven wrong. I mean within the first weekend Black Panther already made 350 million dollars. I just came from Atlanta because I teach film there, but most of the screenings were pre-sold out before the film even dropped. It’s just incontrovertible.”
“It’s like how it went with Hip-Hop. I remember they were saying, “It’s not like Jazz or Bebop. It’s just a trend that will pass.” Well it’s been passing for a lifetime. There are so many Hollywood movies that open with a Hip-Hop soundtrack or song.”
Why Black movies matter.
“We have stories to tell that have never been told before. It’s nice to see them told by other people, but its even nicer to see them told by black people from a black aesthetic and we have a lot to offer. We are more than just sports and music. We have more to offer in terms of visual metaphors that we are able to create.”
“Its just that film is an expensive medium, you need assistance. You need money and funding it’s not like painting a painting where you just need oils. You need a crew and a bunch of money to make a movie. Even when you work as an independent it’s much more costly than writing a poem or a book.”
Another feature film?
“Well I hope so. It’s not the lack of trying. Ever since Daughters of the Dust came out 26 years ago I’ve been trying to do another feature. That’s why I mentioned the curators of culture. You pitch your story and write your screenplay and you don’t hear back from them. Thus, I’ve not been able to get fincancing.”
“Daughters of the Dust wasn’t financed by Hollywood and I think in many ways they were not only surprised by the success of this film, but it’s like I was punished by it. Because they couldn’t believe it.”
“It’s illogical because I have been filming for TV successfully with so many films and then not to be able to get another feature film financed??? I’m still pitching ideas and all I hear from them is, “I Don’t know.” It has to do with gender as much as it is race, but also who you know and it helps if you’re a male.”
“It’s not even good business sense to eliminate people. I don’t think it’s even in their conscious minds when they decide to support or not. They just go for the status quo, which is often male filmmakers and what they know and what they trust.”
Daughters of the Dust Q & A expectations.
“I am going to be interested in the questions that they will ask me, but also to how different their questions might be from those of African Americans. There are many Africans in Belgium. Many from Congo and of course my film has many African references. They might convey to me if I did things right or not in Daughters of the Dust and if therecognize the references. Because a lot of people in the United States didn’t recognise these things. Only if they had studied African Studies, linguistics or anthropology. For some it happened after they saw the film. When they did research to understand the references, symbols, religions (Yoruba, Ebo, Santeria) and the mixing of the old gods with the new.”
“There are just many retention patterns that we retain. We don’t know why, but we just do and they’re expressed in our everyday situations. You can find it in African American cuisine, folklore, languages, habits, hairstyles. Everything points directly to certain African aesthetics, but the average person doesn’t know where it comes from.”
“So, I hope they feel free enough to ask me very pointed and specific questions. I hope that they challenge me.”
“My encouragement to filmmakers amongst them would be to keep on going and keep making films. They can be short films, commercials, music videos. They have to keep expressing themselves in a very original way. Everyone can make what they’ve seen before, but the challenge is to make the story in a new way.”
By the way…
“Since you’re from Amsterdam, Feargal, my cinematographer David Claessen comes from Amsterdam as well, but he was born in Haarlem, the Netherlands which is funny, because I was born in Harlem, New York. Anyway, he really knows how to handle black skin tone when it comes to lighting. Make sure you mention him in this interview.”
Interview by Feargal Agard | Photo by ….
Visit https://www.bozar.be/en/activities/135774-afropolitan-festival-2018 for more information about the festival.