Film Director, Trailblazer, Community-minded Artist

Film director Julie Dash was the first Black woman director to release her movie in theaters and she did it by telling stories about a group of people not typically told in mainstream films—not an easy feat.

Julie was born in 1952. She was raised in New York City, living in the Queensbridge Housing Project in Long Island City, Queens. Coming of age during the heart of the civil rights movement, Julie experienced what she refers to as “turbulent political times and the racial confrontations that took place in the 1960s.” She goes on to say, “Back then there was a real racial reckoning, [one that] continues today.”

After completing high school, her passion for art and cinema led her to pursue further education in filmmaking. She studied at the Studio Museum of Harlem and received a degree in film production from City Colleges of New York. Eventually, she pursued graduate studies at the UCLA Film School. There, she became a part of a new generation of filmmakers known as the “L.A. Rebellion.” The L.A. Rebellion was a group of Black artists who studied at UCLA from the late 1960s to the late 1980s. These young filmmakers made movies that served as an alternative to traditional Hollywood films that often focused on White narratives and negative Black stereotypes.

After completing several smaller movie projects, Julie began work on her feature film Daughters of The Dusk after receiving $800,000 in financing from PBS. Her family’s Gullah background inspired Julie. Gullah people are Black Americans originating from the coastal and island regions of the American South. They developed a creole language, also called Gullah, and a culture with significant African influence. Set in 1902, Daughters of The Dusk tells the story of three generations of Gullah women as they prepare to migrate North.

Daughters of The Dusk premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 1991, where it was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize and won a cinematography award. It became the first theatrical release by a Black female film director. The movie earned praise for its experimental, non-linear storytelling, striking visual imagery, and depiction of Gullah culture. In 2004, Daughters of The Dusk was included in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.

Since Daughters of The Dusk, Julie has built a career as a director, writer, and producer. She created music videos and documentaries and directed acclaimed television shows like Queen Sugar. Julie is not only a legendary filmmaker but also a bold trailblazer—she made way for herself and others in an industry that historically excludes Black women.

— Written by Sherman Payne