Exploring the Visual and Contextual Parallels of ‘Lemonade’ and ‘Daughters of the Dust’

Last year, world pop star, Beyoncé Knowles sent the world by storm when she released her visually striking album Lemonade. The featured film that paired along with the album was filled with imagery that undeniably paid homage to generations of Black women. Amongst the talk about Lemonade, people began to draw parallels between Lemonade and the critically acclaimed 1991 film Daughters of the Dust, directed by Julie Dash.  After viewing both films, it would be hard to deny Daughters of the Dust‘s influence on Lemonade. 

Both films, plot-wise, highlight the stories of Black women. Daughters of the Dust primarily focuses on a family of Gullah women–descendants of enslaved West Africans to be exact–and their migration from the coast of South Carolina, to the north. Lemonade, visually, projected nothing but images that were filled with Black women and touched on issues such as anti-black misogyny and building pride in one’s black womanhood.

Along with prioritizing Black women in the narrative, both films touched on generational impact, culture, and trauma. Lemonade spoke to how infidelity was a generational issue in a family and how that has impacted the speaker–which many have argued is Beyoncé herself. Daughters of the Dust illustrated how the remnants of Geechee culture were to be preserved by the Peazant family. Nana, the elder of the family, refused to migrate north with the rest of the family because she did not want to leave her roots behind. She was afraid that her family would lose their ties to their native land, culture, and ancestors. Keeping their Gullah culture alive from generation to generation was vital to Nana.

While both stories centered Black women in the narrative and consistently illustrated the theme of generational impact, they are also both told in a non-linear style, meaning the story is not told in a typical beginning to end fashion. Both Lemonade and Daughters of the Dust are told in a poetic way with non-diegetic remarks and poems that carry the story along. In Lemonade, during transitions between each song, Beyoncé can be heard reciting poetry written about Somali poet Warsan Shire. In these poems, she speaks about her pain of discovering her partner’s infidelity and how that has impacted her as an individual and their relationship. In Daughters of the Dust, Eula and Eli Peazant’s unborn child narrates the story with a good amount of scenes being flash-backs to past generations of Peazants. Both films are strong visually. The visuals are both jarring and breathtaking. Dialogue, even in Daughters of the Dust, is not the main factor that carries these stories along. It is the non-diegetic commentary along with the poetic visuals.

One undeniable moment where both films crossed paths is their referencing to the mass suicide of the enslaved Igbo people. In one of the more poetic moments of Daughters of the Dust, Eula Peazant stands on the edge of a creek retelling the story of the mass suicide. As an act of resistance, the Igbo people, while singing their native songs, walked into the river and drowned themselves. They would have rather died than to be shackled for the remainder of their lives. They refused to let their bodies become capital currency. As Eula is recounting the story, her husband, Eli, is in the waters, pushing what seems to be a last artifact of their ancestors–a wooden statue–further into the river, signifying their ancestors’ act of rebellion. In Lemonade, Beyoncé leads a line of Black women, sheath in white sheer dresses, into the depths of a river, illustrating the mass suicide that was explained in Daughters of the Dust.

Reducing it to the settings, both Lemonade and Daughters of the Dust, take place in the rural south. Symbols such as old willow trees, sweet grass, hidden coasts and rivers were pictured in both films. A good number of b-roll shots in Lemonade are reminiscent of the scenes in Daughters of the Dust. For example, shots of the Black women in Lemonade sitting in trees is reflective of scenes in Daughters of the Dust. In Daughters of the Dust, there are scenes where the characters’ dialogue takes place as they sit in the nooks of trees. Even their attire is similar. For many moments in Lemonade, Beyoncé and the other Black women in the scenes are dressed in mostly colonial clothes. Inevitably, in Daughters of the Dust, a story that takes place in the early 1900s, the women are dressed in the same manner.

Thankfully, with the comparisons to LemonadeDaughters of the Dust was revived and pulled back into light. It is an important film, all on its own, that shows how films do not necessarily need to be linear in order to be palatable or impactful. In fact, its enigmatic nature makes it even more appealing because it is left up to the viewer to interpret these images and sounds. Lemonade also shows that dialogue and linear story-telling is also not the only way to get a point across. Both films are important and defy linear story-telling.

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