Dash provides a visually lush and poetic portrayal of a little-known Gullah subculture existing on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. Because the small colony is isolated from the mainland and the dominant culture, the extended family exhibits unfamiliar behaviors and patterns of speech associated with their African heritage.

The story occurs on the day prior to the Peazant family's final departure from the island's familiar contours and rich customs. The wise old matriarch and conjure woman keeps both the oral history and a tantalizing box of relics. When her family leaves, not surprisingly, she intends to stay. Some members have already assumed characteristics of the mainland culture, such as Christianity and mainland manners, and are eager to leave; others are more reluctant and even frightened about forsaking the world they know.

Without any careful delineation of specific problems, audiences recognize inherent tensions between an inherited tribalism, and alien belief systems. If the island and the relic box's strange contents reference safety, stories about lynching and rape on the mainland cast a dark shadow for many family members. A breathtakingly beautiful picnic scene at the beach is central because it celebrates and symbolizes the paradisal innocence of the island people.


Unlike so many recent films about African-Americans which are set in crime-ridden ghettos, Julie Dash's unhurried portrayal of barrier island life provides an unexpected setting and different group of characters. Because the story floats along with an engaging uneasiness viewers struggle to understand an unfamiliar patois of images and sounds; in fact, much of the puzzle-like story can be very frustrating. They want to know what happened next and why or precisely what one event meant. The film reminds them that absolute answers aren't always possible.


Recipient of 1991 Sundance Film Festival Award.

Primary Source

Kino Video