Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust is a film riddled with symbolism about the Gullah culture on the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia in the United States. The film is about the Peazant family and their journey from the island of Ibo Landing to the mainland, just as their African ancestors had done centuries before. However, Dash’s ability to tell a symbolic story through visuals and mise en scene, most predominantly through color, is what makes this film so important and significant.
The premise of the film is about the Peazant family leaving the island of Ibo Landing for the first time since their African ancestors walked back to the mainland generations before. However, it is Dash’s use of color and mise en scene that really drives home the dramatic problem and struggle of the film. In film, or art for that matter, the color white is often used to represent purity or innocence in characters. Most of the younger women in this family on Ibo Landing wear white. These are the same women that have never left the island, but are distanced from their ancestors and are planning the trip to the mainland. I believe Dash was using white to represent these women as pure and untouched, as they have never ventured off of their island. Also, other women on the island wear different colors, and these women are mostly different from those who wear white on the island. For example, Nana, who is much more in tune with her ancestry and teaches the children on the island about where their family originated from, wears an indigo dress. Also, Mary wears a yellow dress throughout the film. In the film, it is hinted at that Mary may have been a prostitute and it is clear that she has left Ibo Landing and is more connected with the outside world.
Daughters of the Dust is a complex film and at times, hard to follow or get totally interested in. However, Dash’s use of color and mise en scene really draws the audience’s eye and helps them understand and explore the main theme in this film: the struggle and uncertainty of leaving your homeland and ancestry in search of a new home.