Julie Dash

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Julie Dash
Born (1952-10-22) October 22, 1952 (age 64)
New York City, New York, United States
Nationality American
Alma mater CCNY, AFI, UCLA
Occupation Film director, producer, screenwriter
Years active 1973–present
Spouse(s) Arthur Jafa Fielder (divorced)
Children N’Zinga Dash

Julie Dash (born October 22, 1952) is an American filmmaker, author and member of the L.A. Rebellion. The film Daughters of the Dust (1992) was the first full-length film by an African-American woman with general theatrical release in the United States. Dash is the film's producer, screenwriter, and director. In 2004, Daughters of the Dust was included in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

Dash earned her MFA in motion picture and television production from the UCLA Film School.[1] She has created an alternative to Hollywood films, made numerous music videos and television movies. Some notable television movies include Funny Valentines (1999), Incognito (1999), Love Song (2000), and The Rosa Parks Story (2002). Her Brothers of the Borderland (2004) was commissioned by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

Dash's book Daughters of the Dust: A Novel (1997) is a sequel to the film, set 20 years later in Harlem and the Sea Islands.

Early life[edit]

Julie Dash was born on October 22, 1952 in Queens, New York. Her father, a Gullah from the Sea Islands of Georgia, raised her.[2] In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Dash said that she knew little about her Sea Island heritage until she noticed her father's "funny accent." She learned years later that it was Gullah, a West African-influenced English creole used and preserved by people on the islands and in the Low Country of Georgia, South Carolina, and northeastern Florida, together with a particular culture. As a child she noted certain rituals by her nanny, a Gullah woman; for instance, the woman would burn strands of Dash's hair that came loose after combing, rather than throwing them in a wastebasket. She told Dash this was "so no one could get a hold of it" and suggested "hiding [her] pictures so no one could put gopher dust on them and drive you crazy.".[3]

Dash began her study of film 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.[4][5]

She directed Working Models of Success (1976), and the next year, produced Four Women (1977), a short dance film based on a song by Nina Simone. It won a Gold Medal for Women in Film in the 1978 Miami International Film Festival. 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.[6]

Marriage and family[edit]

She married Arthur Jafa, a photographer[7] and cinematographer. They had a daughter Nzinga and later separated. They worked together on her Daughters of the Dust (1992), which won numerous awards for cinematography.


Early career[edit]

Her 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 film Illusions (1982) was her first to earn more widespread success and attention.[6] Set in 1942 Hollywood, a year after the attack at Pearl Harbor, it takes place at the fictional National Studios. Mignon Duprée is a black woman executive who has "passed" for white to achieve her position. Ester Jeeter is 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/singer rather than dub for others, and the uses of cinema in wartime: three illusions in conflict with reality.[8] The film has a major theme of the use of codes for strategic advantage. It also explores racial and sexual discrimination in Hollywood and American society.[9]

Illusions was critically acclaimed; it 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.[10][11]

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.

Daughters of the Dust[edit]

Main article: Daughters of the Dust

Dash worked on Daughters of the Dust since 1975, finally getting financing in 1988 from PBS so that she could proceed. It is the first feature film by an African-American woman to be distributed in the United States in theatrical release. It tells the story of three generations of Gullah women in the Peazant family on St. Helena Island in 1902, as the younger ones prepare to migrate to the North. It was filmed on the Sea Islands. 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.[12]

The film is narrated by the Unborn Child, carried by Eula, a married daughter of the Peazant family. Nana Peazant is the matriarch, and she talks of the ancestors; their first people on the island were brought as slaves centuries before. Two daughters have returned from the mainland: one is a missionary and the other a beautiful woman known as Yellow Mary (she is bright-skinned), who was "ruin't" by a white man and has become a prostitute. The family gathers for a last big dinner on the beach before the migration, which will leave Nana Peazant on the island. One of the daughters eloped with a Native American man on the island. "Daughters of the Dust," in the Gullah dialect with some subtitles, is not rated but is suitable for general audiences.[7]

The movie gained critical praise, for both its rich language and use of song, and for its lyrical visual imagery and cinematography. In 2004, Daughters of the Dust was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

With her success, Dash said,

"I'm a very hopeful person and I think we can accomplish a lot through film in the '90s. We're going to see a lot of film work done by black women who have different concerns than our brothers who make films [...] We have strong statements to make because we've been silenced for so long".[13]

Later career[edit]

Dash has pursued other film projects than features. She has directed videos with musical artists, 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.[2]

She also wrote and directed an episode of Women for Showtime Cable Network, as well as Sax Cantor Riff, one of HBO’s Subway Stories for producers Jonathan Demme and Rosie Perez.[2]

Films for television include Funny Valentines (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.[14] Alfre Woodard, and executive producer on the film, asked Dash to get involved.[15]

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.[6]

The Rosa Parks Story (2002) is about a significant woman of the civil rights movement, starring Angela Bassett. Being one of the executive producers, Bassett sought after Julie Dash to direct.[15]

The film follows her life and her marriage to Raymond Parks (Peter Francis James) as they deal with the issues of segregation, Jim Crow and second-class status in 1950s Alabama. Rosa Parks is shown having to take a test and being rejected when she tries to register to vote; blacks were essentially disfranchised in the South for more than 60 years. She becomes involved in the civil rights movement and her decision to keep her seat on the bus prompts the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which lasted 381 days and caught national attention. Her case went to the Supreme Court. Shown on the CBS Network, The Rosa Parks Story won numerous awards.[2]

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.[16]

Feminist Perspective[edit]

As a African American woman, Dash feels its a duty to embody the richness of women's culture within her storytelling. There's a parallel between her first film, Illusions, and the struggle that African American women filmmakers working in an industry that is predominantly run by white men. This film challenges the conventions of classical Hollywood cinema with its form. With her first feature, she had established a feminist style through her cultural awareness, original aesthetic, and headstrong story choices.[17]

She explains,

"I'm a product of the times. Of course my films are going to reflect the political climate that I came up in." [18]


  • With Toni Cade Bambara and bell hooks, Dash wrote Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African American Woman's Film (1992). The book includes the screenplay.
  • Dash wrote Daughters of the Dust: A Novel (1997), 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. It was selected in 2011 for the Charleston County Public Library's "One Book Program".[19]
  • She is working on a romantic trilogy for Dutton-Signet publishers.[2]


  • 1985 Black American Cinema Society Award for Illusions
  • 1989, Black Filmmaker Foundation Jury Prize for Illusions as best film of the decade
  • 1991, Sundance Film Festival - Cinematography Award for Daughters of the Dust; also nominated for the Grand Jury Prize.[20]
  • 1992, Candace Award, National Coalition of 100 Black Women[21]
  • 2004, Daughters of the Dust, selected for the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress
  • 2005, Daughters of the Dust, Excellence in Cinematography Award of the 15th Cascade Festival of African Films, Portland, Oregon.[22]
  • Dash was elected as an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.
  • The Rosa Parks Story (2002) was named the Best Television Movie in the NAACP Image Awards.
  • 2003, Black Reel Awards went to Bassett as Best Actress, Cicely Tyson as Best Supporting Actress, Paris Qualles for his teleplay, and the film as Best Network/Cable Film.
  • The Rosa Parks Story won the Family Television Award and the New York Christopher Award.[2]
  • For the 55th Annual Directors Guild Awards, Julie Dash was nominated for her Outstanding Directorial Achievement on The Rosa Parks Story. She was the first African-American woman nominated in the category of "Primetime Movies Made for Television".[2]



  • Digital Diva (????)
  • Making Angels (????)[23][24]
  • Tupelo 77 (????)
  • Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl (2017)
  • Standing at the Scratch Line (2016)
  • Smuggling Daydreams Into Reality (2011)
  • My Marlton Square (2009)
  • Brothers of the Borderlan' (2004)
  • The Rosa Parks Story (2002) (TV)
  • Love Song ( 2000) (TV)
  • Incognito (1999) (TV)
  • Funny Valentines (1999) (TV)
  • Subway Stories (TV) (segment "Sax Cantor Riff")
  • Women: Stories of Passion (1 episode, 1997); Grip Till It Hurts (1997) TV Episode
  • Tony! Toni! Tone! - "Thinking Of You" (1997) (music video)
  • Adriana Evans - "Love Is All Around" (1997) (music video)
  • Praise House (1991)
  • Daughters of the Dust (1991)
  • Illusions (1982)
  • Diary of an African Nun (1977)
  • Four Women (1975)
  • Working Models of Success


  • Digital Diva (????)
  • Traveling Notes of a Geechee Girl (2017)
  • Standing at the Scratch Line (2016)
  • Subway Stories (1997) (TV) (segment "Sax Cantor Riff")
  • Women: Stories of Passion (1 episode, 1997); Grip Till It Hurts (1997) TV Episode (teleplay)
  • Daughters of the Dust (1991)
  • Illusions (1982)



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. ^ a b c d e f g "Bio-Julie Dash", Julie Dash Blog
  3. ^ Susan King, "The 'L.A. Rebellion' returns", The Los Angeles Times, 3 October 2011
  4. ^ "Julie Dash", New York Times"
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ a b c Voices: "Julie Dash", University of Minnesota, 5 August 2005
  7. ^ a b Kempley, Rita. "'Daughters of the Dust'". www.washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 2016-04-08. 
  8. ^ "Julie Dash: 'Illusions'", Women Make Movies website
  9. ^ "CODES AND CLOSETS: JULIE DASH'S ILLUSIONS", UCLA Film and Television Archive, 14 November 2011
  10. ^ Thomas, Kevin (1985-01-22). "Dash Tops List : Black Film Society To Give Awards". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles, California. Retrieved 2011-11-05. Film maker Julie Dash will be presented a $1,500 first prize on Feb. 1 at the third annual Black American Cinema Society awards at the Ambassador Hotel for "Illusions," a drama about a black female executive (played by The Cotton Club's Lonette McKee) passing for white at a Hollywood studio during World War II. 
  11. ^ 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 
  12. ^ "Julie Dash and the ongoing struggle of black women filmmakers". Indy Week. Retrieved 2016-04-08. 
  13. ^ Patricia Smith: "A Daughter's Tale: Julie Dash finally gets to tell her story of Gullah life," The Boston Globe, 15 March 1992
  14. ^ John Leonard, "'Funny Valentines' and 'Deep in My Heart'", New York Magazine
  15. ^ a b Dash, Julie (2007-01-01). "Making Movies That Matter: A Conversation with Julie Dash". Black Camera. 22 (1): 4–12. 
  16. ^ "BHM: Friday Directors – Julie Dash", Professor Sussuro blog, 13 February 2009
  17. ^ Ryan, Judylyn S. (2004-09-01). "Outing the Black Feminist Filmmaker in Julie Dash's Illusions". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 30 (1): 1319–1344. doi:10.1086/421884. ISSN 0097-9740. 
  18. ^ "Julie Dash: Filmmaking within a Culture of Women". Black Camera. 11 (2): 2–4. 1996-01-01. 
  19. ^ Susan Cohen, "Twenty years later, Julie Dash's film Daughters of the Dust continues to inspire", Charleston City Paper, 14 September 2011
  20. ^ "Daughters of the Dust-Archives", Sundance Film Festival Archives, 1991
  21. ^ "Camille Cosby, Kathleen Battle Win Candace Awards". Jet. 82 (13): 16–17. July 20, 1992. 
  22. ^ "From the Collection: Julie Dash’s 1991 Sundance Award-Winning Daughters of the Dust", Sundance Film Festival, 25 January 2012
  23. ^ Michael Dembrow, "Notes on 'Daughters of the Dust'", Note for Cascade African Film Festival, 2005, faculty spot hosted at Portland Community College
  24. ^ "Daughters of the Dust", LA Rebellion, blog at UCLA

External links[edit]