Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Women You Should Know - Julie Dash by E. Amato

Women You Should Know:
Julie Dash
by E. Amato

When I was in college, I worked part-time for a woman who ran her own business. I’m not sure why, maybe she was cleaning out her book shelves, but one day, she handed me almost every book by Zora Neale Hurston. I read them all. When I cracked open Their Eyes Were Watching God, I knew I was inside something sacred, something that blended longing and fulfillment with painful precision, and something that told truths never before exposed. I didn’t know why I had never heard of it – why people weren’t shouting about it like they did Gatsby or Hemingway.

Despite the fact that I was in film school and planning to make a life in cinema, no movie had ever made feel anything like that.

Until I saw Daughters of the Dust.

Julie Dash’s out of the gate fiercely independent feature held me in its palm for 112 minutes. It is a womanist story; it is a story of peoples invisible, worlds unexplored, and humans defining the meaning of home. It is filled with indelible images and presences rather than performances. Its lines still reverberate in my head; its characters voices come to visit and stay. A film like that should have propelled Dash to the forefront of American cinema.

Instead, the next time I heard about her, she was directing and writing an episode of Showtime’s “Women: Stories of Passion,” an attempt by the cable network to both cash in on women telling women’s stories and sell some soft erotica to a late-night market. Still, it employed more than a few women directors, writers and producers during its run. Since then, Dash has had an intermittent filmography that outwardly falls short of her vision, talent, and experience.

"Everything I’ve made, pretty much, being a female filmmaker, my male teachers would say, “Why in the world are you wasting your time on that?” Illusions, Diary of an African Nun… everything was like, “Oh for god’s sakes.” That continues. When I was doing my segment of Subway Stories, I remember a lot of male crew members gritting their teeth when I had the flowers blowing across the subway track. They were looking at their watches like, you know, it’s time to go. That was the ‘90s. It continues. It’s something that female filmmakers, who were working and investigating the culture of women, faced and what we continue to face. There are different cultural set points, traditions, and all of these things that may not even interest the male counterparts and might even annoy them, because they may seem frivolous. Even with Daughters of the Dust, when we won the Best Cinematography award at Sundance in 1991, I would have people look me in the face at times and say, “Let’s not even talk about it. I don’t even know what the hell it’s about.” At that time, Matty Rich’s Straight Out of Brooklyn was at Sundance, and it won the Special Jury Prize. It was given a standing ovation. Young, urban, male films were the thing in the ‘90s."

Recently, watching Beyoncé’s Formation video, I was struck by the imagery so clearly influenced by Dash’s work. It feels shameful that Dash and her creative team fashioned images so powerful they are referenced over two decades later, yet she has never been given the space to tell the visual, visceral, emotional stories she holds.

As we look closely at inclusion and at the underrepresentation of women and PoC in the entertainment industries, it is important not only to consider what – and who – we are missing, but also the lifetimes of stories we have already lost. Dash has remained a working artist, and has a new documentary, TravelNotes of a Geechee Girl, in the works. But I would have given a lot to have her skill, craft, and point of view as part of the cultural dialogue over the last 25 years. I would have liked to have her speaking to me all this time. I certainly would have traded a few of the same guys with guns movies for a few more of her human stories. To have a voice like that so marginalized out of the main, to be missing the ten or so feature films she should have been supported in making feels like a grave crime to me. 
".. it’s important to do the film that you want to do — and then let people come to it. They may not get it now, but they will get it by and by. I’m not saying pop films aren’t fun, but every film is not a pop film. Every film isn’t taken from the headlines. Some films are made because they need to be made. They’re works of passion. That’s what Daughters of the Dust was." (Julie Dash, Flavorwire Interview, October 2015)

…unapologetic feminist, dulcet-toned poet, activist, film-maker, editor of Zestyverse” (LossLit) E. Amato  is a published poet, award-winning screenwriter, and established performer. She has three poetry collections by Zesty Pubs: Swimming Through Amber5, & Will Travel, and is a content writer for The Body Is Not an Apology. She also has a special relationship with Marmite.

Editor's Note:  This is my favorite month of the year! I love this series, and am excited to have the inaugural post this year. You can find additional posts in the Women You Should Know series in the blog archives  from March 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.  If you are interested in being a guest blogger on the Zestyverse, let us know!

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