Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Daughters of the Dust, or: Nana Knows Best

Period dramas continue!  This week we cross the pond to southern Georgia for a look at a dying way of life and the determination to hold onto heritage in spite of this.

The Film:

Daughters of the Dust

The Premise:

The extended branches of a Gullah family in Georgia reunite for a final celebration together before leaving the island they’ve inhabited for years.

The Ramble:

At Ibo Landing in 1902 Georgia, the Peazant family gathers from far and wide as they prepare to leave their home.  The Peazants are Gullah, a people whose ancestors were slaves brought from Africa and have lived on an island in Ibo Landing for generations.  Seeking new opportunities north, the family determines they will leave this land behind–though some are more on board with this plan than others.

a group of African-Americans in early 20th century clothing stand on a sandy beach

Cousins Viola and Yellow Mary travel to the island for a final meal with their family on their ancestral lands.  The two are rather different:  Viola is religious and optimistic about opportunities that await north.  Meanwhile, Yellow Mary was scandalously banished from the family years ago, now returning with her lady lover Trula.  Yellow Mary is welcomed only by Eula, her cousin by marriage.

Eula is deeply conflicted about her pregnancy, as she is married to and loves her husband Eli; however, she was raped on the mainland and is unsure who the baby’s father is.  She hopes to convince Eli that the baby is his no matter what, but Eli’s feelings of anger and helplessness will not abate.  Our story is narrated by this child, a daughter who already feels a connection to her grandmother.

Nana, the family’s grandmother and oldest member, feels that leaving Ibo Landing is unnatural and an effective abandonment of the family’s culture.  She encourages the younger generations to connect to the ancestors and celebrate the ways of their people.

a woman seated in a chair holds the shoulders of a woman crouching in front of her

Honestly, there’s not a lot of structure to this film’s narrative, but given that the entire family is gathered for a reunion dinner, clearly there will be drama.  Are the bonds of family and culture enough to keep everyone together in spirit if not in location?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This film is beautifully shot and very clearly a labor of love.  The characters, especially the women, shine here.  I enjoy seeing the power and determination of Nana, Eula, and Yellow Mary as they remain true to themselves.  The relationship between Eula and Yellow Mary is especially great too.  It’s so wonderful to see how the film works as a meta-narrative, emphasizing the importance of preserving and embracing Gullah heritage, while itself acting as an intentional preservation and celebration of this history.

However, personally, I prefer a bit more narrative structure in a film.  The focus here is on the family’s relationships with their culture and each other rather than the specific events of the story, but I still wanted to a little more action going on.

Will my blog wife stay connected to this film or leave it behind without a backward glance?  Find out here!

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