Daughters Of The Dust “Daughters of the Dust,” by Julie Dash is a film rich with symbolism and meaning. The film is set in Ibo Landing where the ancestors of enslaved Africans were said to have walked across the water in an attempt to return to their homeland. The Peazant family gathered on a day in 1920 in order to prepare for a journey across the water from their secluded home to the mainland, and to mainstream American society. I had to watch the movie several times before I was able to identify the many themes that Dash has chosen to weave together in this”artsy” film presentation. Of the many symbols that appear throughout the film, I have found one of the simplest to be the most profound.
Throughout the film, Julie Dash uses the Color of the clothes to represent the connection or disconnection that exists between the characters and their African ancestry. In this paper, I will focus on the colors that Julie Dash has assigned to the clothing worn by the female characters in the film. The first character that I will discuss is Nana Peazant. Nana Peazant is the oldest female in the Peazant family. She is the member of the family who is most in touch with the family ancestry and she is replete with the blood memory of her African culture and tradition.
She is rooted in the old ways, engages in ancient forms of ritual and perpetuates their culture. Throughout the film, she serves as a central figure and a strong matriarch. She councils the younger generation, shares of her knowledge with them, and tries her best to convey to them the importance of remembering and recognizing where they come from. The color of her dress and the skin of her hands are a deep purplish blue color from indigo dye. The dye has permeated her skin and serves as a permanent reminder of plantation life, a time where she was made to use indigo to dye materials with her bare hands. The color of her clothing is symbolic of her position within the family.
The color of her hands is significant because as her hands retain the color of the dye, she retains the traditions handed down to her by the ancestors before her. The majority of the older women in the film are dressed in white. Many of their dresses are adorned with purple belts, sashes, and scarves. These women are wearing natural hairstyles and they are depicted in the film teaching the children games and preparing foods that are particular to the Gullah culture. As the deep indigo color of the dress worn by Nana Peazant can symbolize her powerful ties to the past; the small touches of purple that are found in the outfits of these women, can suggest that they are removed from the past and moving toward a more “modern” existence. Eula, Iona, and the younger children are dressed in all white.
They are two and three generations removed from slavery and the plantation experience. They are even farther removed from Africa. The only knowledge that many of the children will carry with them is the history and the tradition that is handed down to them by their parents. Nana Peazants daughter Viola is a devout follower of the Christian religion. She is very willing to distance herself from the traditional practices of her African ancestors; she considers them primitive.
Viola is eager to have her family join her on the mainland and she is clearly shaken when her mother wraps roots around the bible and asks that her children take a part of her wherever they go. The clothes worn by Viola are different from the clothes worn by the other women, in that; they are not associated in any way with her African culture. She wears a long black skirt and is very conservatively dressed. Her hair is worn in a style that is pinned up to emulate the styles worn by the White women on the mainland. The appearance of viola is very important because it symbolizes her desire to separate herself from her ancestry and to reach toward an existence that is more White. Throughout the majority of the film, Yellow Mary is wearing a dress that is pale yellow or off white.
I believe that the color of her dress is being used by Julie Dash to symbolize her impurity. Although it is not stated clearly within the film, the inference is made that Yellow Mary has engaged in some behavior that many of the women on Ibo Landing consider unacceptable. In the book, the reader is informed that she has been involved in prostitution. Yellow Mary has been away from Ibo Landing for some time. She has made a life for herself away from her family and her ancestors.
She returned to the Island to assist her family members in their journey to the mainland. The character of Yellow Mary is presented in the film as worldly and hardened. She speaks with authority and her laughter is harsh. The first time that she is presented as vulnerable is when she shares a moment with her elder, Nana Peazant. Yellow Mary seeks refuge in Ibo Landing, and decides to stay behind. A friend accompanies Yellow Mary on her trip to Ibo Landing.
In the film, the viewer is not presented with much information about the friend or about the nature of their relationship. Without information, about Yellow Marys friend, to guide the viewer, her appearance becomes very significant. She is the closest in appearance to a white woman that we find in the film, and she is wearing a bright yellow dress. Yellow Mary is wearing a dress that has an off white or yellow hue symbolizing her tainted moral character. Her friends bright yellow dress may infer that she is damaged morally, or that there is a greater separation between her and her African roots.
When the family bonds together to take part in a ritual honoring the wishes of their eldest female ancestor, Yellow Marys friend finds the situation to be unbearable and runs away. The entire story is told from the point of view of the unborn child of Eula Peasant. This child is an innocent, and like her mother, she wears all white. The difference between this child and the other children that were described earlier is that she would have the benefit of growing up on Ibo Landing with the influence of Nana Peazant and the presence of her ancestors. Julie Dash gives the viewer evidence of this by showing that the unborn child has the markings of indigo on her finger.
The symbolism behind the colors of the clothing that were assigned to the female characters in “Daughters of the Dust,” by Julie Dash Was a very important aspect of the film. I feel that she was very successful in using color to create a continuity between the identities of the female characters and their connection with their ancestry, or in a few cases, their disconnection with it.