Julie Dash

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Julie Dash
Cover of 70.2.jpg
Dash on the cover of Film Quarterly, 2016
Born (1952-10-22) October 22, 1952 (age 65)
New York City, New York, United States
Nationality American
Alma mater CCNY, AFI, UCLA
Occupation Film director, producer, screenwriter, visual artists
Years active 1973–present
Spouse(s) Arthur Jafa Fielder (divorced)
Children N’Zinga Dash

Julie Dash (born October 22, 1952) is an American film director, writer, producer, website creator and music video and commercial director. Dash received her MFA in 1985 at the UCLA Film School and is one of the graduates and filmmakers born out of a time known as the L.A. Rebellion.[1][2] 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.

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's included in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for its cultural, historical and aesthetic significance."[3] 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.

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.[4] In 2017, Dash directed episodes of Queen Sugar on the Oprah Winfrey Network.

Early life and education[edit]

Dash was born on October 22, 1952 in Queens, New York. She studied in 1969 at the Studio Museum of Harlem.[1] As an undergraduate, she studied psychology until accepted into the film school at the Leonard Davis Center for the Performing Arts at CCNY. In 1974, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree. As a student, Dash wrote the script for a documentary for the New York Urban Coalition, entitled Working Models of Success.

After graduation, she moved to Los Angeles for graduate studies, attending the Center for Advanced Film Studies at the American Film Institute (AFI).[1] There she studied under filmmakers including Jan Kadar, 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.[5][6]

She directed Working Models of Success (1976),[7] and the next year, produced Four Women (1977), a short dance film based on a song by Nina Simone.[3] It won a Gold Medal for Women in Film in the 1978 Miami International Film Festival.[8] 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.[9]

Film career[edit]

Early career[edit]

Dash's film work began to take on a new direction after film school. Dash said in an 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." Being inspired by the novels of black women authors led to her decision to work at dramatic films.

Her 1975 short film, Four Women is based on the ballad “Four Women” by Nina Simone. As 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.[10] 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. She had a special assignment screening at the Cannes International Film Festival to review a screening of short films in the Marché du Cinema.

Her film Illusions (1982) explores racial and sexual discrimination in Hollywood and American society[11] and was her first to earn more widespread success and attention.[9] Set in 1942 in the fictional National Studios, it features Mignon Duprée as a black woman executive 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.[12]

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.[13][14]

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.[15]. 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.[16][17][18]

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.”[19]

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.[20] It became the first feature film by an African-American woman to be distributed in the United States in theatrical release[21] 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."[22]

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."[3] 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. 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.[23]

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's “Give Me One Reason” was nominated for MTV’s Best Female Vocalist, 1996.[24]


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.[25]

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.[26] Alfre Woodard, and executive producer on the film, asked Dash to get involved.[27]

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.[9]

Actress and executive producer Angela Bassett asked Dash to direct the CBS biopic The Rosa Parks Story in 2002.[27] 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.[28] The Rosa Parks Story won several awards, including the NAACP Image Award for Best Television Movie.[29] 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".[30]

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.[31]

Dash joined the roster of female directors working on the second season of Ava DuVernay's Queen Sugar on the OWN Network in 2017.[32]


  • 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".[33] Plume, 1999, ISBN 0452276071

Personal life[edit]

Dash and her former husband, photographer and cinematographer Arthur Jafa,[18] have a daughter, Nzinga.


  • First Prize - Black American Cinema Society Award for Illusions, 1985[13]
  • Sundance Film Festival Excellence in Cinematography Award (Dramatic) for Daughters of the Dust; nominated for Grand Jury Prize, 1991[34]
  • Candace Award, National Coalition of 100 Black Women, 1992[35]
  • NAACP Image Award, Best Television Movie for The Rosa Parks Story; Best TV Movie Actress for Angela Bassett, 2002[29]
  • Family Television Award, Movies and Mini-Series for The Rosa Parks Story, 2002[36]
  • 55th Annual Directors Guild Awards - nominated for Outstanding Directorial Achievement on The Rosa Parks Story (first African-American woman nominated in the "Primetime Movies Made for Television" category), 2002[37][8]
  • Black Reel Awards: Outstanding Television Actress - Angela Bassett; Outstanding Television Supporting Actress - Cicely Tyson; Outstanding Television Screenplay, Original or Adapted - Paris Qualles; Outstanding Television Film for Rosa Parks Story, 2003[38]
  • New York Christopher Award for The Rosa Parks Story, 2003[39]
  • Daughters of the Dust selected for the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, 2004
  • Excellence in Cinematography Award for Daughters of the Dust, 15th Cascade Festival of African Films, Portland, Oregon, 2005[40]
  • Elected honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority[41]


  • Queen Sugar (2017) (TV) [season 2: episode 9 - "Yet Do I Marvel," episode 10 - "Drums at Dusk"]
  • Standing at the Scratch Line (2016) [also writer]
  • Smuggling Daydreams Into Reality (2011)
  • My Marlton Square (2009)
  • Brothers of the Borderland (2004) [film for immersive museum exhibit]
  • The Rosa Parks Story (2002) (TV)
  • Love Song (2000) (TV)
  • Incognito (1999) (TV)
  • Funny Valentines (1999) (TV)
  • Subway Stories: Tales from the Underground (1997) (TV) [also writer, segment: "Sax Cantor Riff"]
  • Women: Stories of Passion (1997) (TV) [also writer, 1 episode: "Grip Till It Hurts"]
  • Praise House (1991)
  • Daughters of the Dust (1991) [also writer, producer]
  • Illusions (1982) [also writer]
  • Four Women (1978)
  • Diary of an African Nun (1977)
  • Working Models of Success (1973) [documentary][42]

Music videos[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ King, Susan. (October 3, 2011) "The 'L.A. Rebellion' returns," The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on October 6, 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "L.A. Rebellion - Julie Dash," UCLA Film & Television Archive. Retrieved on October 3, 2017.
  4. ^ "Brothers of the Borderland". freedomcenter.org. Retrieved 2017-07-08. 
  5. ^ "Daughters of the Dust", LA Rebellion, blog at UCLA
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Kuhn, Annette; Radstone, Susannah (1990). The Women's Companion to International Film. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520088795. 
  8. ^ a b Tasker, Yvonne (2002). Fifty Contemporary Filmmakers. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415189743. 
  9. ^ a b c Voices: "Julie Dash", University of Minnesota, 5 August 2005
  10. ^ Field, Allyson (2015). L.A. Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema. University of California Press. 
  11. ^ "CODES AND CLOSETS: JULIE DASH'S ILLUSIONS", UCLA Film and Television Archive, 14 November 2011
  12. ^ "Julie Dash: 'Illusions'", Women Make Movies
  13. ^ a b Thomas, Kevin. (January 22, 1985) "Dash Tops List : Black Film Society To Give Awards," Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  14. ^ 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 
  15. ^ Turan, Kenneth. (March 6, 1992) "'Daughters' Recaptures Power of Gullah Past," The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  16. ^ 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.
  17. ^ Dash, Julie; Cade Bambara, Toni; hooks, bell. (1992). "Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman’s Film." The New Press.
  18. ^ a b Kempley, Rita. (February 28, 1992) "Daughters of the Dust," The Washington Post. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  19. ^ Coyle, Jake. (November 18, 2016) "Julie Dash’s landmark ‘Daughters of the Dust’ is reborn," AP News. Retrieved on October 5, 2017.
  20. ^ "Julie Dash and the ongoing struggle of black women filmmakers". Indy Week. Retrieved 2016-04-08. 
  21. ^ "Trailblazing filmmaker Julie Dash to visit Johns Hopkins". Johns Hopkins University. 
  22. ^ Holden, Stephen (January 16, 1992) "Review/Film; 'Daughters Of the Dust': The Demise Of a Tradition," The New York Times. Retrieved October 5, 2017.
  23. ^ Desta, Yohanna. (August 22, 2016) "How Beyoncé’s Lemonade Helped Bring a Groundbreaking Film Back to Theaters," Vanity Fair. Retrieved on February 26, 2017.
  24. ^ Goodman, Mark D. (November 20, 2006) "ArtMakers - Julie Dash Biography," The HistoryMakers. Retrieved on October 3, 2017.
  25. ^ Torriano Berry, S. and Berry, Venise T., Historical Dictionary of African American Cinema, Rowman & Littlefield, May 7, 2015, pg. 123, ISBN 1442247029.
  26. ^ John Leonard, "'Funny Valentines' and 'Deep in My Heart'", New York Magazine
  27. ^ a b Dash, Julie (2007-01-01). "Making Movies That Matter: A Conversation with Julie Dash". Black Camera. 22 (1): 4–12. 
  28. ^ "L.A. Rebellion - The Rosa Parks Story. UCLA Film & Television Archive. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  29. ^ a b Breznican, Anthony. (March 8, 2003) "'Rosa Parks Story Wins' Two NAACP Awards," Midland Daily News. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ "BHM: Friday Directors – Julie Dash", Professor Sussuro blog, 13 February 2009
  32. ^ Scott, Sydney. (May 26, 2017) "Julie Dash Joins The Second Season Of ‘Queen Sugar'" Essence. Retrieved on October 3, 2017.
  33. ^ Susan Cohen, "Twenty years later, Julie Dash's film Daughters of the Dust continues to inspire", Charleston City Paper, 14 September 2011
  34. ^ "Daughters of the Dust-Archives", Sundance Film Festival Archives, 1991
  35. ^ "Camille Cosby, Kathleen Battle Win Candace Awards". Jet. 82 (13): 16–17. July 20, 1992. 
  36. ^ 4th Annual Family Television Awards. Aired on August 9, 2002; ABC Television Network. Getty Images. Retrieved on October 14, 2017.
  37. ^ Awards and Nominees. Directors Guild of America. Retrieved on October 14, 2017.
  38. ^ Winners - Television, 2003 Black Reel Awards. Retrieved on October 13, 2017
  39. ^ The 54th Annual Christopher Award Winners, Television & Cable - 2003 The Christophers. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  40. ^ "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
  41. ^ Danois, Alejandro. (January 15, 2016) "The Distinguished Women of Alpha Kappa Alpha," The Shadow League. Retrieved on October 13, 2017.
  42. ^ Julie Dash Filmography, African Film Festival New York. Retrieved on October 3, 2017.

External links[edit]