Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Chapter 12: Picturing Homes and Border Crossings: The Slavery Trope in Films of the Black Atlantic

Official trailer from Daughters of Dust

In the twelfth and final chapter of Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images, Awam Amkpa and Gunja SenGupta examine three films—Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust (United States, 1991), Euzhan Palcy’s Rue Cases-Nègres (Martinique, 1983), and Ousmane Sembène’s Ceddo (Senegal, 1977)—to examine the representation of slavery. The authors argue that on discursive and stylistic levels, these films creolize the medium of film in the same way that transatlantic slavery and colonialism hybridized the languages of Europe, Africa, and the Americas. 

Within this cosmopolitan context of Daughters of Dust’s creation, the cinematic text itself offers an interactive reading of American nationalism, heavily shaded with présence africaine. Nana’s character, for instance, demolishes a familiar white nationalist myth of subservient black female assimilation, substituting in its place a pluralistic vision of inclusion. Nana is the very antithesis of Mammy—the corpulent, grinning, apron-clad icon of the ideal female servant invented by proslavery polemicists in the antebellum era, an image that resurfaced in the mass advertising imagery of Aunt Jemima at the turn of the twentieth century. Whereas Mammy symbolized smiling acculturation to racial hierarchies, Nana, clad in her very modern-looking dreadlocks and Victorian attire stained with the indigo of slavery, urges acceptance of difference. In one pivotal scene, she creates a syncretic fetish by laying a purse containing her mother’s hair, her own hair, and other charms on top of Viola’s Bible, and invites family and friends to each lay a hand on her own hand holding the fetish. Moreover, even as some of the Peazants leave the island, viewers know that the Low Country will continue to weave an identity forged in différance within difference. For the mixed-blood prostitute and lesbian Yellow Mary and the Muslim Bilal stay on, even as the Peazant girl Iona rides off with her Cherokee lover, St. Julian Last Child, into an Ibo Landing sunset.

Paths of the Atlantic Slave Trade: Interactions, Identities, and Images edited by Ana Lucia Araujo is available in hardcover. It is also available in different ebook formats, which start at $19.99 to purchase and $9.99 to rent. Professors who wish to use this book along with others in the slavery studies collection for their classes should use the Cambria Book Cloud, which allows for the bundling of ebooks at only $9.99 per title for each student.