The spectrum of black women's spirituality in television has become nearly as diverse as the portraits of Afro-Atlantic spiritual practices that became central to key literary works of black feminist authors of the 1980s, such as Toni Cade Bambara, Paule Marshall, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. While many are the spiritual and televisual daughters of the authors mentioned above, this essay argues that the appearance of this wider range of black women's spirituality and activism in episodic television owes its greatest debt to two films from the 1990s, Julie Dash's, Daughters of the Dust (1991) and Kasi Lemmons’ Eve's Bayou (1997). I focus here on two shows which were themselves created by Black women feature film directors, Shots Fired (Gina Prince Bythewood with Reggie Rock Bythewood) and Queen Sugar (Ava DuVernay). I examine how characters like Pastor Janae (from Shots) and Nova Bordelon (from Sugar) use their spiritual practices in service of social justice, family, and community healing in ways that connect them to the women of Dash and Lemmons’ earlier films.
The Daughters Debt: How Black Spirituality and Politics are Transforming the Televisual Landscape
Josslyn Luckett is Assistant Professor of Cinema Studies at NYU. Her current book project examines the pre-history of the filmmakers known as the “L.A. Rebellion,” by engaging the multiracial media “insurgents” of UCLA's Ethno-Communications Program, whose activist film work changed the face of independent media in Los Angeles and beyond. A former Executive Story Editor for The Steve Harvey Show, her original screenplay, Love Song, was directed by Julie Dash and produced by MTV.
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Josslyn Luckett; The Daughters Debt: How Black Spirituality and Politics are Transforming the Televisual Landscape. Film Quarterly 1 June 2019; 72 (4): 9–17. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/fq.2019.72.4.9
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