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Atlantan Julie Dash part of TCM's 'Trailblazing Women' October 22

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By RODNEY HO/, originally filed Wednesday October 21, 2015

Atlanta-based TCM is celebrating female trailblazers in film in October. This Thursday night, Julie Dash will be one of 47 female directors featured this month.

She was the first black female director to create and distribute a nationally released theatrical film in 1991 with "Daughters in The Dust," which is airing on TCM Thursday at 9:45 p.m. This will be part of a night featuring African-American independent films.

Dash, who is currently teaching a a documentary film-making class at Morehouse College, spoke to me about her film "Daughters in the Dust" and her time in Atlanta.

"I really enjoy working with emerging film-makers," Dash said. And she lived in Atlanta in the late 1980s and early 1990s so she didn't mind packing her bags and moving from Los Angeles for a few months.

She shot "Daughters in the Dust" while living in Atlanta. The film is about three generations of Gullah women in the Peazant family on Saint Helena Island, S.C. in 1902 as they prepared to migrate to the North.

Dash said the film continues to travel the international film festival circuit even a quarter century later. "In a few weeks," she said, "it's going to Poland."

She is still gratified and surprised the film ever had a wide national release in the United States given its niche appeal. "I thought it would just be in art houses, which are not around anymore," she said. And although it was a domestic film, she said it felt like a foreign film to most viewers. "It ran 36 straight weeks in New York City," she said.

But the film didn't always get the proper respect. Journalists at the time, she said, would often dismiss it as a "television movie." "I think that had to do with me being a women filmmaker," she said. "They couldn't grasp it being an independent film being made by an African-American filmmaker."

She said foreign audiences react differently than American audiences to the movie. "Americans want it to roll out like what they see on television," Dash said. "It wasn't composed for a smaller screen. They speak several languages. They're constantly crossing boundaries with their own cultural traditions. The United States is more closed off in their thinking especially when it comes to African-American film."

She is encouraged by how things have changed since the early 1990s for both blacks and females, citing Kathryn Bigelow, who was the first female director to win an Oscar with "The Hurt Locker." "We have people who are talented and aggressive and know how to use social media. All that is good."

She was also impressed with Ava Duvernay, who directed 2014's "Selma," shot partially in Atlanta. "I was very moved by it," she said. "She is a very talented storyteller." It reminded her of the 2002 TV film she did "The Rosa Parks Story," starring Angela Bassett.

Ultimately, she is just glad that "it’s not weird to be a filmmaker in 2015. It's not weird to be a female filmmaker. And it's not extra extra weird to be an African-American filmmaker like it was back then."

Dash was also thrilled to just be included in this "Trailblazing Women" special. "I was a little shocked," she said. "I've always been a big fan of TCM. I love old black and white movies."

This initiative is part of a multi-year partnership between TCM and Women In Film (WIF) to showcase the current gender gap in the film industry. Here are some stats TCM provided:

  • Men outnumbered women 23-to-1 as directors of the 1,300 top-grossing films since 2002
  • A 5–to-1 ratio of men working on films to women
  • 15 percent of writers working in film are women
  • 20 percent of editors are women


"Daughters in the Dust," 9:45 p.m. Thursday, October 22, 2015, TCM

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.