Filmmaker inspires students with her story and work

Julie DashAcclaimed African-American movie director Julie Dash has never been one to worry about fitting in with the crowd. The director, who made history in 1992 as the first African-American woman to write and direct a full-length film for general theatrical release, served as the final speaker for the 2010-2011 Meryl Norton Hearst Lecture Series Wednesday evening. She also participated in a discussion group in the afternoon. The events were sponsored by the Center for Multicultural Education, the Office of the Provost and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts.

Dash used the opportunity to share stories and clips from six of her films before opening the floor up for discussion with audience members.

“Each of them has its own history, its own unique story to it,” Dash said of her body of work.

Dash described “Love Song,” the first film shown at the presentation, as an “interracial love story with a twist.” Recognizing the controversy the film caused, Dash explained her desire to create something new and different with each of her works.

She had the opportunity to do this again with “The Rosa Parks Story,” a made-for-television movie that Dash considers to be one of the highlights of her life.

The Rosa Parks story movie poster “We only know a fraction of the story, and with this film we get to see a fuller version of her life,” said Dash of telling Parks’ story.

Dash saved the clip of “Daughters of the Dust,” the 1991 film that put her on the map, for last.

“I made ‘Daughters of the Dust’ because I had a whole lot of things to say, and I didn’t find them in other African-American films,” stated Dash, who feels the film goes so deep within a culture that it seems foreign. “My constant has been my desire to redefine how we as African-Americans are depicted in cinema.”

The veteran director also offered advice for those college students who are just entering into the field of film.

“Experiment now, stretch yourself … try things, don’t try to fit in,” said Dash, noting the autonomy college students have to be creative.

Dash has a special connection to students at UNI, as she first met Executive Vice President and Provost Gloria Gibson years ago when Gibson was a graduate student. The provost spoke highly of Dash, thanking her for sticking with her goals and having the courage to step out and tell the story of African-American women.

Capricia Spinks, a junior social work major, could be seen nodding along with much of what Dash said throughout the presentation.

“If it wasn’t for people like her there wouldn’t be this genre of film-making, so I’m very glad I came,” said Spinks, who hopes that events like these will continue in the future. “It’s just a very powerful thing.”

Blanca Martinez, a junior electronic media major at UNI, echoed Spinks’ sentiments saying, “Seeing them (Dash’s movies) now just makes me want to go home and see all of them.”

 Although she is uncertain what she wants to do with her degree in electronic media, Martinez sees Dash as an inspiration for her future.

“Hopefully I’ll get to do something like what she does,” stated Martinez.

This inspiration is exactly the impact the Hearst lecture series was intended to have, noted Chris Martin, interim department head and professor of communication studies, who has helped to organize this year’s events.

 “A lot of these speakers have been very life-changing for students,” said Martin. “Julie Dash is one of those important, life-changing people.”