December 8, 2021
...Lorraine O'Grady Film Club: "Illusions" (1982) by Julie Dash
We launch the Lorraine O’Grady Film Club with Julie Dash’s Illusions to open a critical dialogue on the illusions and narratives perpetuated within the American film industry. Set in a fictional Hollywood studio during the Second World War, Dash’s short film reveals the hidden labor of Black women in the studio and the deliberate appropriation of Black music for white gain. Rich with dramatic visuals and inventive shots, the cinematography reflects the complex codes, myths, and expectations of a racialized America.

Still from Illusions, Julie Dash, 1982
Still from Illusions, Julie Dash, 1982

Julie Dash (b. 1952, New York, NY) is a filmmaker, director, and author. Her film studies began in Harlem in 1969, but eventually led her to the American Film Institute and UCLA, where she made The Diary of an African Nun (1977), based on a short story by Alice Walker, which won a student award from the Directors Guild of America. Dash’s critically acclaimed short film Illusions (1982) later won the Jury Prize for Best Film of the Decade awarded by the Black Filmmakers Foundation. Dash’s first feature - Daughters of the Dust (1991) - was the first film by an African American woman to receive a general theatrical release in the United States; the Library of Congress named it to the National Film Registry in 2004. Dash is a frequent lecturer at many leading universities, including Stanford University, Princeton, Harvard and Yale.

Lorraine O’Grady Film Club #1:

Illusions, Julie Dash, 1982 (34 minutes)
5pm PST / 8pm EST
Click here to join the Zoom screening

Also on our mind is Lorraine O’Grady’s 2010-12 video work Landscape (Western Hemisphere), featuring her own hair as an abstract, softly swaying landscape. O’Grady sees her hair as evidence of racial hybridity and a symbol of resilience. Her body, Black women’s bodies, serve as a symbolic and literal foundation upon which the “Western Hemisphere” was built.

(from Lorraine O'Grady's Vimeo.)

How can we think about signifiers of blackness in Illusions and Landscape (Western Hemisphere)?

What do these works reveal about the exploitation of Black women?

How can these works help us think differently about hybridity, ambiguity, passing?

Click here to read more about O'Grady's career as a rock music journalist.

The Lorraine O’Grady Film Club is hosted by Selam Bekele and Meghan Smith every month, on Wednesdays, from December 2021 to March 2022.