Social Death in the Work of Julie Dash Open Access

Burton, Rachal Denice (2016)

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During the late 1970s and early 1980s, critically acclaimed Black female auteur Julie Dash wrote, assisted with, and directed films while attending the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Film School. More specifically, during this period she participated in the L.A. Rebellion, a group "with a common purpose to create a new Black cinema characterized by innovative, meaningful reflection on past and present lives and the concerns of Black communities in the United States and across the African diaspora." This cohort included, Alile Sharon Larkin, Charles Burnett, Zeinabu irene Davis, Larry Clark, Jacqueline Frazier, and Haile Gerima. Manthia Diawara's essay "Black American Cinema: The New Realism" contextualizes their films as the main example of mid- to late 20th-Century Black independent cinema. Black indie directors, he argues, tried to upend mainstream Hollywood modes of filmmaking; cinema for them, Diawara asserts, became "a research tool." The L.A. Rebellion's filmography then, specifically the group's distinctive narrative form and style is central to the Black indie movement. Dash in particular currently occupies a unique and highly esteemed place in the history of American film. Her most famous works--her UCLA thesis production Illusions (1982) and her theatrical feature Daughters of the Dust (1991)--have become celebrated for their narratives centered on Black women as well as their implicit critiques of Hollywood and slavery, respectively. In this thesis, I examine her Project One UCLA student production Four Women (1975) as well as Illusions, and her only full-length feature production Daughters of the Dust--to argue that Dash's Black characters are positioned by what sociologist Orlando Patterson calls natal alienation, a term he uses interchangeably with social death. Most broadly, I argue that Dash employs narrative strategies and cinematic style, to meditate on and dramatize what constitutes Black life and love within this context.

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

Chapter One: Social Death and Politics of Race-Mixture in Four Women, Illusions, and Daughters of the Dust. 5

Chapter Two: Subversion and Red and Black Positionality in Illusions and Daughters of the Dust. 29

Conclusion. 42

Works Cited. 46

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