Revisiting the past with ‘Daughters of the Dust’ screening

The film "Daughters of the Dust" is screened in the Dodd Center on Tuesday, Feb. 28 as a part of a film series on human rights. (Jon Sammis/The Daily Campus)

What was supposed to be an open discussion and deeper look into the roles of race and gender in an all-black society was more of a casual movie screening on a Tuesday in Konover auditorium. Despite limited audience presence, the viewing and discussion session was one to remember. The screening was a part of the human rights film series that occurs at the university each year. This year’s theme centered around race. What better movie to view than “Daughters of the Dust,” one that broke so many barriers when it comes to the discussion and execution of race in film?

Jeffrey Ogbar, a UConn professor of history, started off the discussion with a bit of background on the movie. Having seen the movie multiple times, including the year when it was first released, Ogbar said that he “[was] able to experience the film through multiple perspectives: first as a student, then as a teacher.” “Daughters of the Dust” earns its place in history as one of the first feature films directed by an African American woman to be distributed theatrically in the United States. The topics explored range from religion and spirituality to race and gender all placed against a historical background of the Great Migration of the 1900s.

“Daughters of the Dust” has experienced a revival of recognition and buzz. For a movie that didn’t receive the acclaim it deserved at the time of release, it has begun to inspire the work of artists like Beyoncé and has sparked a continuing conversation among a new group of young eyes and ears. The movie discusses on the issue of moving forward and improving while continuing to acknowledge the struggles of the past. The screening of the movie couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, with the newly-released “Black Panther” seeing a record-breaking amount of success and praise. Black Panther provides the black community with the same impact as the “Daughters of the Dust” in 1991, only without the anticipation that “Black Panther” received. This situation is a perfect example of something good coming at the wrong time. But, this rebirth has sparked new views on the conversation and has helped to promote more active participation from the black community in seeking accurate representation.

Though the main focus of the event wasn’t the comparison of the importance of “Black Panther” and “Daughters Of The Dust,” it would have been wrong to not include in the conversation. The movie has similarities with “Black Panther” in drawing attention to the importance of proper representation for black people in film. In both movies, the main cast is all black and they are shown in positions of power to empower their peers. Ogbar highlighted this fact in the discussion by helping paint a picture of the regular documentation of black people in film, saying, in short, that they are normally either a slave, a thug or some other victim of oppression. It is damaging to portray black people as mere victims of violence.

Representation matters and this is evident from the effects that proper representation has on not only children, but the entire black community. “Black Panther” has been all anyone can talk or post about for the past month and it is justified. It has been a long time coming since black people were widely portrayed, represented and accepted in this way and “Daughters of the Dust” helped set that practice in motion. Discussions, viewings and the revisiting of symbols of culture like this are an important part in effectively using the past to achieve more.


Kanthalina Andreus is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kanthalina.andreus@uconn.edu.