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Film Honoring Gullah Heritage Selected for National Registry

Film Honoring Gullah Heritage Selected for National Registry

A film honoring the Gullah heritage has been selected by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry.  Los Angeles director Julie Dash made the film, “Daughters of the Dust,” as an homage to her father’s heritage.

The registry, which was founded by Congress in 1988 and now includes 400 titles, seeks to preserve films deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” to American history.

“Daughters” is one of 25 chosen for the registry this year. Others selected include “Jailhouse Rock” (1957), “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Unforgiven” (1992).

Dr. Robert Sklar, a New York University cinema studies professor who helped advise on this year’s choices, said both the subject matter and artistry of “Daughters” are groundbreaking. The film also marked the first time a Black woman’s film had been commercially distributed, he said.

“In an uncompromising way, she made a film about a part of American culture people didn’t know much about,” Sklar said.

The Gullah were slaves, brought to the Sea Islands of South Carolina and Georgia — where the culture is known as Geechee — in the early 1800s.

Their descendants speak a unique dialect, sprinkled with words spoken by their West African ancestors. Elders govern their communities, where several generations of families live in the same house, and storytelling is elevated to an art form.

There are about 250,000 Gullah living in the Southeast today. Most are assimilated, but some of their customs endure and their dialect still can be heard in the Sea Islands.

In Dash’s film, a Gullah family in 1902 is about to seek a better life on the mainland. At points, an unborn Gullah girl narrates.

“I set out to make a foreign film about an American family. I like the experience of going into a theater and being taken somewhere you’ve never been,” Dash, 53, said. “That was what I was trying to do rather than just tell a Southern story.”

Last month, U.S. Rep. James E. Clyburn, D-S.C., praised the U.S. Senate for its passage of his Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Act. This authorization bill creates a commission under the auspices of the National Park Service to oversee the development of three interpretive centers and administer grants aimed at preserving this unique blend of African and Anglo language and traditions.

— From staff and news wire reports

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