Julie Dash’s films frequently meditate on history. Daughters of the Dust (1991) brings us into the unique culture of a Gullah family on the precipice of change in a new century. Illusions (1982) imagines if a Black woman passing as a white woman had become a film executive in the Classical Hollywood era. The Rosa Parks Story (2002) profiles the iconic civil rights activist whose act of civil disobedience is too often simplified and decontextualized in history books.
It may come as no surprise, then, that Dash’s music videos from the late 1990s invoke nostalgia, with most of them incorporating imagery from the past.
The video that most obviously does this is Tony! Toni! Toné!’s 1996 video “Thinking of You.” From the opening shot, Dash throws us into a world of vintage photography and home movies. Children are filmed on super 8mm with artifacts of aging film fluttering up the screen, and the members of Tony! Toni! Toné! sing in sepia tones. Vintage still-photography cameras appear in multiple shots, and the cars, props, and costumes populating the set hail from mid-century America.
“Thinking of You” is a song about nostalgia, and music critics have noted that the album it appears on, House of Music, weaves in 1960s soul sounds. Dash’s visual style accords well with the tone of the music.
In another video from the same year, Adriana Evans’ “Love Is All Around,” the setting is contemporary, but Dash again invokes home movies through a faux travelogue. The singer is shown in sepia tones traveling through France, taking snapshots with a point-and-shoot and smiling at the home movie camera filming her. We see shots of French children in black and white, presumably shot with small-gauge film camera wielded by Evans or her off-screen companion. The mood is a sweet memory of the recent past.
Julie Dash’s most high-profile music video is Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason” (1996), which played on heavy rotation on MTV the year it was released. The ’90s swing revival was just about to peak, and “Give Me One Reason” features Chapman and her band performing in a throwback jazz club. The microphones are in a 1940s style, and the club’s patrons wear vintage or vintage-inspired clothes. The bartender counts money in front of an analog till, and a woman checks a pocket watch on a chain, all while the camera pans sharply and goes in and out of focus.
“Give Me One Reason” now feels like a nostalgic artifact of 1990s music video aesthetics, calling to mind khaki ads and playful jump cuts and a time when indie directors transitioned between film and music-video directing.
From now until March 31, IU Cinema will revisit Daughters of the Dust as part of the 10 Years, 10 Films, 10 Perspectives series. You will be able to stream the film to the device of your choosing via a link and password which will only be provided through our Weekly Email. You must be subscribed to our Weekly Email to receive the film’s link and password.
The Cinema previously screened Daughters of the Dust in 2016 as part of Julie Dash’s visit to the IU Cinema.
Laura Ivins loves stop motion, home movies, imperfect films, nature hikes, and Stephen Crane’s poetry. She has a PhD from Indiana University and an MFA from Boston University. In addition to watching and writing about movies, sometimes she also makes them.