Julie Dash

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Julie Dash
Julie Dash - Career Girls 2-55 screenshot.png
Dash in 2020
Born (1952-10-22) October 22, 1952 (age 70)
New York City, New York, United States
Alma materCCNY, AFI Conservatory, UCLA
OccupationFilm director, producer, screenwriter, visual artists
Years active1973–present
SpouseArthur Jafa Fielder (divorced)
ChildrenN’Zinga Dash

Julie Ethel Dash (born October 22, 1952) is an American film director, writer and producer.[1] Dash received her MFA in 1985 at the UCLA Film School and is one of the graduates and filmmakers known as the L.A. Rebellion. The L.A. Rebellion refers to the first African and African-American students who studied film at UCLA.[2][3] After she had written and directed several shorts, her 1991 feature Daughters of the Dust became the first full-length film directed by an African-American woman to obtain general theatrical release in the United States.[4]

Daughters of the Dust is a fictionalized telling of her father's Gullah family who lived off the coast of the Southeastern United States. The film features black women's stories, striking visuals shot on location and a non-linear narrative. It is included in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance."[5] Dash has written two books on Daughters of the Dust—a "making of" history co-written with Toni Cade Bambara and bell hooks, and a sequel, set 20 years after the film's story.

Daughters of the Dust was named one of the most significant films of the last 30 years, by IndieWire.[6]

Dash has worked in television since the late 1990s. Her television movies include Funny Valentines (1999), Incognito (1999), Love Song (2000), and The Rosa Parks Story (2002), starring Angela Bassett. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center commissioned Dash to direct Brothers of the Borderland in 2004, as an immersive film exhibit narrated by Oprah Winfrey following the path of women gaining freedom on the Underground Railroad.[7][8] In 2017, Dash directed episodes of Queen Sugar on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

At the 2019 Sundance Film Festival, it was announced Dash's next project will be a biopic of civil rights activist Angela Davis, to be produced by Lionsgate.[9]

Early life and education[edit]

Dash was born on October 22, 1952, in Queens, New York, to Rhudine Henderson and Charles Edward Dash.[1] She graduated from Jamaica High school then went on to receive a B.A. in film production from City Colleges of New York in 1974.[1] She was raised in the Queensbridge Housing Project in Long Island City, Queens.[10][11] She studied in 1969 at the Studio Museum of Harlem.[2] As an undergraduate, she studied psychology until she was accepted into the film school at the Leonard Davis Center for the Performing Arts at City Colleges of New York, CCNY. In 1974, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Film Production. As a student, Dash wrote the script for a documentary for the New York Urban Coalition, entitled Working Models of Success.[1]

After graduating from CCNY, she moved to Los Angeles for graduate studies. She completed a 2-year Conservatory Fellowship in Producing/Writing at AFI Conservatory.[2][1] There she studied under filmmakers including Ján Kadár, William Friedkin, and Slavko Vorkapich. She attended graduate school at the UCLA Film School and became one of a new generation of African and African-American filmmakers known as the "Black insurgents" or L.A. Rebellion.[12][13]

She directed Working Models of Success (1976),[14] and the next year, produced Four Women (1975), a short dance film based on a song by Nina Simone.[5] It won a gold medal for Women in Film in the 1978 Miami International Film Festival.[15] As a graduate student at UCLA, she received an MFA in Film and Television Production. She directed the film Diary of an African Nun (1977). Screened at the Los Angeles Film Exposition, it earned a Director's Guild Award for a Student Film.[16]

Film career[edit]

Early career[edit]

During film school, Dash was influenced by avant-garde, Latin American, African, and Russian cinema.[11] Dash's film work began to take on a new direction after film school. Dash said in a 1991 interview with the Village Voice, "I stopped making documentaries after discovering Toni Morrison, Toni Cade Bambara, and Alice Walker. I wondered, why can't we see movies like this? I realized I needed to learn how to make narrative movies."[17] Being inspired by the novels of these black women authors led to her decision to direct dramatic films.[17]

Four Women (1975)[edit]

Her 1975 short film Four Women is based on the ballad “Four Women” by Nina Simone. In the song, four women are portrayed (all by the dancer Linda Martina Young): Aunt Sarah, a slave, Saffronia, a mixed-race woman, Sweet Thing, a prostitute, and Peaches, as a representation of black women overcoming racial and gender-specific forms of oppression. The first character shown is Aunt Sarah who wears a long dress and represents slavery. The next character is Saffronia who wears a black dress and a black veil. She is a mixed-race woman who is the product of her mother being raped by a white man. The next character, Sweet Thing, is a prostitute. She wears a floral print dress and she is no longer covered by a veil. The last character is Peaches, who represents a black woman who has been toughened by generations of oppression. She wears cornrows, a brightly colored tube top, and matching pants. The overall message of this short is to show the different struggles that many black women are subjected to.[18][19] Stereotypes of black women are directly addressed, asking the audience to address their own biases and stereotypes.

From 1978 to 1980, Dash worked as member of the Classifications and Ratings Administrations for the Motion Picture Association of America.[20] She had a special assignment screening at the Cannes International Film Festival to review a screening of short films in the Marché du Cinema.[citation needed]

Illusions (1982)[edit]

She wrote and directed the short film Illusions (34 minutes), which explores racial and sexual discrimination in Hollywood and American society.[21] Released in 1982, it was her first to earn more widespread success and attention.[16] Set in 1942 in the fictional National Studios, it follows a black woman executive, Mignon Duprée, who has "passed" for white to achieve her position. Also featured is Ester Jeeter, a black woman who dubs the singing voice in musicals for a white Hollywood star. They work in an industry based on creating images and alternative realities. The film explores Mignon's dilemma, Ester's struggle to get roles as an actress and singer rather than dub for others, and the uses of cinema in wartime: three illusions in conflict with reality.[22]

Illusions received the 1985 Black American Cinema Society Award and the Black Filmmaker Foundation's Jury Prize in 1989 as best film of the decade. Kevin Thomas of the LA Times described it as "a gripping critique of the power of the movies to shape perception," while exploring the illusions created by Hollywood, as well as the illusion of racial identity. The success of this film and other shorts enabled Dash to move to feature films. In 2020, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[23][24]

Daughters of the Dust (1991)[edit]

Dash began work on a story in 1975 that was inspired by her father's Gullah family background and immigration from the Sea Islands of Georgia.[25] This would become the screenplay Daughters of the Dust, which went into production after she received $800,000 in financing from PBS in 1988. The film, set in 1902, revolves around three generations of Gullah women in the Peazant family on St. Helena Island off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. Innovative with its use of Gullah dialogue and interwoven story-lines among the predominately female cast, the film focuses on ancestral and matriarchal story lines as well as the history of former slaves who settled on the island and formed an independent community there. The screenplay was written in the dialect of the island settlers with no subtitles, resulting in an immersive language experience.[26][27][28]

Dash's experimental approach to narrative structure was something rarely seen in U.S. feature-filmmaking. Upon the film's re-release, she explained, “I...wanted to do a film that was so deeply embedded in the culture, was so authentic to the culture that it felt like a foreign film.”[29]

Daughters of the Dust premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1991, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and won a cinematography award.[30] It became the first feature film by an African-American woman to be distributed in the United States in theatrical release[31] and gained critical praise for its use of dialect and music composed by John Barnes, as well for its cinematography and visual imagery.

The New York Times called Dash a "strikingly original film maker," noting that "for all its harsh allusions to slavery and hardship, the film is an extended, wildly lyrical meditation on the power of African cultural iconography and the spiritual resilience of the generations of women who have been its custodians."[32]

Despite the critical acclaim, Dash wasn't able to get the financing to release another feature film, going on to work in television. Daughters of the Dust would continue to gain accolades for more than two decades. It was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2004 as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."[5] Its visuals would influence Beyoncé's acclaimed 2016 video album Lemonade, featuring young women on the beach, dressed in white gowns as in the movie, and gathering in front of an island cabin.[33] On its 25th anniversary, the Cohen Media Group restored and distributed Daughters of the Dust for theatrical release, beginning at the 2016 Toronto Film Festival.[34] Other screenings in celebration of the Daughters of the Dust 25th anniversary included Honolulu Museum of Art, AFI Silver Theater, and ARRAY @ The Broad[35] held in Los Angeles at Theater at Ace Hotel.

Styles and themes[edit]

Dash started making films around the time of the L.A. Rebellion at UCLA which trained many young black filmmakers who all had their own aesthetic visions, however, they all sought a vision of black authenticity.[36] The L.A. Rebellion at UCLA produced many prominent filmmakers who were determined to reimagine the media production process while uplifting and sharing authentically black stories. The films that they were making could serve as both entertainment and education. Julie Dash who was a major influence and participant of the L.A. Rebellion had a common theme in her work which was showcasing the lives of black women and the struggles that they faced. The themes in her films coincide with the idea that the L.A. rebellion was rebelling against. Which was how black people would be portrayed in film following the rise in popularity of blaxploitation films. Not only did Dash's films showcase the lives of black people, but her work was also more primarily focused on the lives of black women and the struggles that are unique to black women. When making films she aims to say things that need to be said while saying it in a different way that hasn't been done before. In the video titled Julie Dash- The Reelback interview on YouTube, she says that her personal filmmaking mission statement is to redefine how we see African-American women on the screen. She wants to show their wants, their needs, their desires, their joys, their sorrows because all of the things that Dash was seeing bore little to no relation to the people she knew or the women who raised her. She wanted to change that because she wanted to see African-American women portrayed differently on the screen.

Music videos[edit]

Dash directed videos for musicians including Raphael Saadiq with Tony, Toni, Tone, Keb ‘Mo, Peabo Bryson, Adriana Evans, and Sweet Honey in the Rock. Her video for Tracy Chapman'sGive Me One Reason” was nominated for MTV’s Best Female Vocalist in 1996.[37]


In 1997, Dash wrote and directed an episode of Women: Stories of Passion for the Showtime Cable Network, as well as Sax Cantor Riff, one of HBO’s Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground for producers Jonathan Demme and Rosie Perez.[38] Dash directed the television film Funny Valentines in 1999, an account of a well-to-do black woman's retreat from a troubled New York marriage to the Deep South and her childhood past.[39] Alfre Woodard, and executive producer on the film, asked Dash to get involved.[40] Dash wrote the screenplays and directed the television movies Incognito (1999), a romantic thriller made by BET Arabesque Films; and Love Song (2000), an MTV movie starring the Grammy award-winning singer Monica.[16]

Actress and executive producer Angela Bassett asked Dash to direct the CBS biopic The Rosa Parks Story in 2002.[40] The film follows Parks and her husband Raymond (Peter Francis James) as they deal with the issues of segregation, Jim Crow laws and second-class status in 1950s Alabama, leading up to Parks' refusing to relinquish her seat on a city bus, leading to the Montgomery bus boycott.[41] The Rosa Parks Story won several awards, including the NAACP Image Award for Best Television Movie.[42] Dash was nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in the 55th Annual Directors Guild Awards—the first African-American woman nominated in the category of "Primetime Movies Made for Television".[43]

In 2004 Dash made Brothers of the Borderland, a work commissioned by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. Narrated by Oprah Winfrey, the film features the character of Alice, an escaped slave whose story represents an amalgamation of historic figures. The film is shown in the Harriet Tubman theater, named for the fugitive slave woman who helped many others escape to freedom.[44]

In December 2016, Dash guest hosted on Turner Classic Movies, appearing in wraparounds to discuss dozens of films on the channel.

Dash joined the roster of female directors working on the second season of Ava DuVernay's Queen Sugar on the OWN Network in 2017.[45]


  • Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman's Film, co-written with Toni Cade Bambara and bell hooks. The New Press, 1992, ISBN 1565840305
  • Daughters of the Dust: A Novel, a sequel set 20 years after the passage explored in the film. Amelia, a young anthropology student who grew up in Harlem, goes to Dawtah Island to meet her mother's relatives and learn about their culture. Selected in 2011 for the Charleston County Public Library's "One Book Program".[46] Plume, 1999, ISBN 0452276071

Personal life[edit]

Dash and her former husband, photographer and cinematographer Arthur Jafa,[28] have a daughter, Nzinga Jafa.

Honors and Awards[edit]


Music videos[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Julie Dash's Biography". The HistoryMakers. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  2. ^ a b c Martin, M (Winter 2010). ""I Do Exist" From "Black Insurgent" to Negotiating the Hollywood Divide--A Conversation with Julie Dash". Cinema Journal.
  3. ^ King, Susan. (October 3, 2011) "The 'L.A. Rebellion' returns," The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on October 6, 2017.
  4. ^ "Julie Dash Made a Movie. Then Hollywood Shut Her Out". Retrieved 2018-07-09.
  5. ^ a b c "L.A. Rebellion - Julie Dash," UCLA Film & Television Archive. Retrieved on October 3, 2017.
  6. ^ Nordine, Kate Erbland, Eric Kohn, Christian Blauvelt, Anne Thompson, David Ehrlich, Chris O'Falt, Zack Sharf, Jude Dry, Tom Brueggemann, Bill Desowitz, Tambay Obenson, Michael; Erbland, Kate; Kohn, Eric; Blauvelt, Christian; Thompson, Anne; Ehrlich, David; O'Falt, Chris; Sharf, Zack; Dry, Jude (2020-10-03). "The All-Time Greatest Films Directed by Women". IndieWire. Retrieved 2021-12-06.
  7. ^ "Julie Dash." Who's Who Among African Americans, Gale, 2017. Biography In Context. Accessed 12 Oct. 2018.
  8. ^ "Brothers of the Borderland". freedomcenter.org. Retrieved 2017-07-08.
  9. ^ Santi, Christina (2019-01-28). "Julie Dash to Direct Upcoming Angela Davis Biopic". EBONY. Retrieved 2019-03-10.
  10. ^ Lee, Felicia R. (December 3, 1997). "In the Old Neighborhood With: Julie Dash; Home Is Where the Imagination Took Root". The New York Times. Retrieved February 28, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Buckley, Cara (2016-11-18). "Julie Dash Made a Movie. Then Hollywood Shut Her Out". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  12. ^ "Daughters of the Dust", LA Rebellion, blog at UCLA
  13. ^ Hornaday, Ann (2007-06-03). "From L.A. Hotbed, Black Filmmakers' Creativity Flowered". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-10-02. In 1967, after studying electrical engineering at Los Angeles Community College, Burnett arrived at UCLA to study film. For the next 10 years, UCLA students would develop a fecund, cosmopolitan and politically engaged movement that came to be unofficially known as the Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers.
  14. ^ Kuhn, Annette; Radstone, Susannah (1990). The Women's Companion to International Film. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520088795.
  15. ^ a b Tasker, Yvonne (2002). Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415189743.
  16. ^ a b c Voices: "Julie Dash", University of Minnesota, 5 August 2005
  17. ^ a b Tate, Greg (June 4, 1991). "Of Homegirl Goddesses and Geechee Women: the Africentric Cinema of Julie Dash". Village Voice. Vol. 36, no. 23. p. 79.
  18. ^ ""Four Women,"". ” National Museum of African American History and Culture.
  19. ^ Field, Allyson (2015). L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema. University of California Press.
  20. ^ Duckworth, Margaret (1995). Notable Black American Women: Book II. Gale. p. 160. ISBN 9780810391772.
  21. ^ "CODES AND CLOSETS: JULIE DASH'S ILLUSIONS", UCLA Film and Television Archive, 14 November 2011
  22. ^ "Julie Dash: 'Illusions'", Women Make Movies
  23. ^ a b Thomas, Kevin. (January 22, 1985) "Dash Tops List : Black Film Society To Give Awards," Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  24. ^ Field, Allyson Nadia. "Illusions". Los Angeles, California: UCLA Film and Television Archives. Retrieved 2011-11-05. Set in Hollywood during WWII, Illusions tells the story of Mignon Duprée, a studio executive passing for white, and Ester Jeeter, an African American singer hired to dub the voice of a white movie star
  25. ^ Turan, Kenneth. (March 6, 1992) "'Daughters' Recaptures Power of Gullah Past," The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  26. ^ Dash, Julie; Cade Bambara, Toni; hooks, bell. (1992). "Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman’s Film," - introduction to the film, interview, and screenplay. The New Press.
  27. ^ Dash, Julie; Cade Bambara, Toni; hooks, bell. (1992). "Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman’s Film." The New Press.
  28. ^ a b Kempley, Rita. (February 28, 1992) "Daughters of the Dust," The Washington Post. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  29. ^ Coyle, Jake. (November 18, 2016) "Julie Dash’s landmark ‘Daughters of the Dust’ is reborn," AP News. Retrieved on October 5, 2017.
  30. ^ "Julie Dash and the ongoing struggle of black women filmmakers". Indy Week. 7 September 2011. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
  31. ^ "Trailblazing filmmaker Julie Dash to visit Johns Hopkins". Johns Hopkins University. 27 April 2016.
  32. ^ Holden, Stephen (January 16, 1992) "Review/Film; 'Daughters Of the Dust': The Demise Of a Tradition," The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  33. ^ "Julie Dash's masterpiece Daughters of the Dust sees overdue resurgence". Retrieved 2018-07-09.
  34. ^ Desta, Yohanna. (August 22, 2016) "How Beyoncé’s Lemonade Helped Bring a Groundbreaking Film Back to Theaters," Vanity Fair. Retrieved on February 26, 2017.
  35. ^ "ARRAY @ THE BROAD PRESENTS: 'DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST'". Array Now. Retrieved 2019-03-10.
  36. ^ Field, Allyson. ""L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema,"". Journal of American History. 140 (1): 279, 280.
  37. ^ Goodman, Mark D. (November 20, 2006) "ArtMakers - Julie Dash Biography," The HistoryMakers. Retrieved on October 3, 2017.
  38. ^ Torriano Berry, S. and Berry, Venise T., Historical Dictionary of African American Cinema, Rowman & Littlefield, May 7, 2015, pg. 123, ISBN 1442247029.
  39. ^ John Leonard, "'Funny Valentines' and 'Deep in My Heart'", New York Magazine
  40. ^ a b Dash, Julie (2007-01-01). "Making Movies That Matter: A Conversation with Julie Dash". Black Camera. 22 (1): 4–12. JSTOR 27761685.
  41. ^ "L.A. Rebellion - The Rosa Parks Story. UCLA Film & Television Archive. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  42. ^ a b Breznican, Anthony. (March 8, 2003) "'Rosa Parks Story Wins' Two NAACP Awards," Midland Daily News. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  43. ^ Letort, Delphine. (Spring, 2012). "The Rosa Parks Story: The Making of a Civil Rights Icon," Black Camera - Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 31-50. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  44. ^ "BHM: Friday Directors – Julie Dash", Professor Sussuro blog, 13 February 2009
  45. ^ Scott, Sydney. (May 26, 2017) "Julie Dash Joins The Second Season Of ‘Queen Sugar'" Essence. Retrieved on October 3, 2017.
  46. ^ Susan Cohen, "Twenty years later, Julie Dash's film Daughters of the Dust continues to inspire", Charleston City Paper, 14 September 2011
  47. ^ "Daughters of the Dust-Archives", Sundance Film Festival Archives, 1991
  48. ^ "Camille Cosby, Kathleen Battle Win Candace Awards". Jet. 82 (13): 16–17. July 20, 1992.
  49. ^ 4th Annual Family Television Awards. Aired on August 9, 2002; ABC Television Network. Getty Images. Retrieved on October 14, 2017.
  50. ^ Awards and Nominees. Directors Guild of America. Retrieved on October 14, 2017.
  51. ^ Winners – Television, 2003 Black Reel Awards. Retrieved on October 13, 2017
  52. ^ The 54th Annual Christopher Award Winners, Television & Cable – 2003 The Christophers. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  53. ^ "From the Collection: Julie Dash’s 1991 Sundance Award-Winning Daughters of the Dust" Archived 2013-01-07 at the Wayback Machine, Sundance Film Festival, 25 January 2012
  54. ^ "New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Taking Aim at Donald Trump Amid the Prize-Giving". The Hollywood Reporter. 3 January 2017. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  55. ^ Society, Beaufort Film. "Julie Dash to Receive Inaugural Robert Smalls Merit & Achievement Award". PRLog. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  56. ^ "Women of Vision Awards". Women in Film and Video of Washington, DC. Retrieved 2019-03-22.
  57. ^ Danois, Alejandro. (January 15, 2016) "The Distinguished Women of Alpha Kappa Alpha," The Shadow League. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  58. ^ Julie Dash Filmography, African Film Festival New York. Retrieved on October 3, 2017.

External links[edit]