Here are three important years for black American cinema: 1989, 1990, and 1991. The crowning achievement in the first of these years was Do the Right Thing; the second, To Sleep With Anger; the third, Daughters of the Dust. The directors of the last two, Charles Burnett and Julie Dash, emerged from the LA Rebellion (a black film movement in the 1970s that had UCLA Film School as its center). The director of the first film, Spike Lee, is a celebrity. Burnett was mostly obscure until his first film, Killer of Sheep, was restored and recirculated in 2007, thanks in part to a huge donation from Hollywood director Steven Soderbergh. Dash, however, has remained in obscurity despite the fact that her film, Daughters, is in many ways the most revolutionary of all three.
To begin with, Dash is a black female director, and the fingers on one hand can count all of the major black female directors in the history of American cinema without depletion: Dash, Kasi Lemmons, and Ava DuVernay. Dash, in my opinion, is the most talented of the big three, and I base this opinion on the lyrical greatness of Daughters of the Dust, a film set in a strange time (1902) on a strange island (Georgia's St. Helena Island), and negotiates a strange cultural zone (between black Africa and black America) with a poetry that, though romantic, has anthropological sophistication. Black women are the stars of this work, which has a profoundly (if not surprisingly) American ending.
You must watch Daughters because you will not find a film like it anywhere. It's like some rare bird that's not only striking because of its unusual colors but because of the perfection of its form. It screens at SIFF Film Center on Tuesday, March 8.
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