At the turn of the century, West African slaves were brought to a small island near South Carolina to labor in the indigo trade. Isolated in the swampy atmosphere, the Gullah community was built based on ancient Yoruba traditions. They spoke in a distinct dialect, a combination of English and West African languages.
This unique community is explored in Julie Dash's debut feature Daughters of the Dust, a costume drama about the Peazant family, a fictional group of Gullah natives living on Ido Landing. The secluded family experiences conflicts surrounding religion, industrialization, and tradition.
The mystical matriarch Nana (Cora Lee Day) holds true to the beliefs of their anscestors, while Haagar (Kaycee Moore) can't wait to move away. Yellow Mary (Barbara O) returns from a life as a prostitute in Cuba with her girlfriend, and gets morally attacked by the reformed Christian Viola (Cheryl Lynn Bruce).
Meanwhile, indifferent Eula (Alva Rogers) is pregnant with a baby that may or may not be the result of a rape. While the story doesn't attempt to follow a standard Eurocentric narrative, the plot revolves around a picnic on the shore in honor of the family members who chose to move to the prosperity of the north.
The narrator is a spirit called the Unborn Child, who appears sometimes as a rambunctious little girl. A photographer accompanies the group to capture the events on film.