Movies 4 Thinkers - Your February 2020 Watchlist

Daughters of the Dust

I saw this film for the first time back in 2000 after a trip to Gullah Island, off the coast of Georgia. I was doing post-baccalaureate studies in Anthropology and African American Studies at Georgia State and our student association, the Sankofa Society, had organized a trip to learn more about the disappearing Geechee culture. The younger generation were moving away from the island, the older generation was dying off. It was a magnificent experience. We sailed around the island, we had traditional food, listened to storytellers, and had a wonderful walking tour around the island. The island itself was stunning. It had massively tall trees dripping with moss. The place had a vibe of an old soul. I can’t explain it but you definitely felt like you were in a special place. There was just something in the air.

When I saw Daughters of the Dust I was immediately taken back to the experience of being on the island. I remember being struck by how poetic and whimsical the film’s cinematography felt. The pacing is slow and almost transcendental. It was almost like being in a dream. Daughters of the Dust is a powerful telling of change, and how change impacts identity. Through this film you experience a sensory voyage into the psyche of a people that know they are fading and wanting to hold on to what makes them who they are. This is definitely one of my all time favorite films.


At the dawn of the 20th century, a family in the Gullah community of coastal South Carolina — former West African slaves who adopted many of their ancestors’ Yoruba traditions — suffers a generational split. Young Haagar (Kaycee Moore) wants to move to the mainland away from tradition-bound matriarch Nana (Cora Lee Day). Former prostitute Yellow Mary (Barbara-O) gets a cold shoulder when she returns to the island with her female lover, especially from her sister Viola (Cheryl Lynn Bruce).


I watched this movie at a time in my life when I was reflecting heavily on my own sexual trauma, my sexual identity, and my religious beliefs. This movie spoke to me on so many levels. I identified heavily with the main character’s feelings of being trapped and longing for freedom of self. I also identified heavily with their feelings of confusion and the overwhelming flood of emotion that comes from undergoing a transformative journey.

Regardless on one’s personal views on sexuality, this is a thought-provoking film that will undoubtedly illicit viewers to evaluate societal dictates of gender and sexuality. It’s message is universal. It questions ideals like love, loyalty, and family that impact us all. Sadly, this powerful film was actually banned in India for it’s showing of same sex intimacy.


Sita (Nandita Das) and Radha (Shabana Azmi) are two Indian women stuck in loveless marriages. While Sita is trapped in an arranged relationship with her cruel and unfaithful husband, Jatin (Jaaved Jaafei), Radha is married to his brother, Ashok (Kulbhushan Kharbanda), a religious zealot who believes in suppressing desire. As the two women recognize their similar situations, they grow closer, and their relationship becomes far more involved than either of them could have anticipated.


My mother was a textile factory worker when I was growing up and her relationship with her coworkers was always very difficult. She faced a lot of cruelty and discrimination from her peers for being a foreigner and this became exacerbated when the factory she worked in became unionized.

Despite this, I wanted to learn more about labor union. While in college, I joined the AFL-CIO’s first cohort of Union Summer interns, helping to organize workers in rural Georgia. This experience taught me a great deal about how unions can play a vital role in safeguarding the rights of workers in places where they find themselves at the mercy of one major employer. However, I never forgot the experience my mother had and I didn’t forget that unions can also serve to reinforce the societal divides that keep the working-class from truly rising above the forces of the industrial elite.

Matewan is a great film for giving the history of labor unions context and exploring the dual nature of these often powerful organizations. The film does this through the lens of the bloody struggle that came to be known as the Matewan Massacre, a shootout in the town of Matewan in Mingo County and the Pocahontas Coalfield mining district, in southern West Virginia.


Filmed in the coal country of West Virginia, “Matewan” celebrates labor organizing in the context of a 1920s work stoppage. Union organizer, Joe Kenehan (Chris Cooper), a scab named “Few Clothes” Johnson (James Earl Jones) and a sympathetic mayor and police chief heroically fight the power represented by a coal company and Matewan’s vested interests so that justice and workers’ rights need not take a back seat to squalid working conditions, exploitation and the bottom line.

Have you seen any of these films? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.