A graduate of the American Film Institute and the University of California at Los Angeles film programs, Dash is perhaps the best-known African American female filmmaker in America. Her critical acclaim is founded on the success of her 1982 short, Illusions, which won Best Film of the Decade from the Black Filmmaker Foundation, as well as several other national and international awards. The film's protagonist is an African American female executive in the film industry of the 1940s, Mignon Dupree, who is passing as white without making an effort to do so; her coworkers simply assume that she is white. She is also imitating a masculine identity to the degree that she dresses and acts to discourage being eroticized by the white men with whom she must work as an equal. During the course of the film, Mignon finds that passing for white is oppressive, and she begins to assert her identity as an African American. Dash has also made a feature-length film, Daughters of the Dust (1991), which has been widely exhibited and also broadcast on public television's American Playhouse series. Like Illusions, it is concerned with the articulation and affirmation of African American identity. It focuses on the turn-of-the-century Gullah culture of the Sea Islands off the South Carolina coast, which has retained many West African traditions, particularly religious and occult practices. Dash sees this film and Illusions as part of a series that she hopes to make on the experiences of African American women in the United States in the twentieth century.
Toni Cade Bambara, a well-known teacher, writer, and social activist, was born on May 25, 1939, in New York. Bambara's mother was influenced by the Harlem Renaissance and fostered creativity in her daughter. After graduating from Queens College in 1959, Bambara worked as a social investigator for the New York Department of Welfare. This experience influenced her writing and reflected her interest in the welfare of the black community. Bambara returned to school, receiving her MA from City College of New York in 1965, where she taught until 1969. It was in the 1970s that Bambara wrote her most important works, including Black Woman, Southern Black Utterances Today, and Gorilla My Love. Bambara's works are frequently written in black street dialect and are set in the rural South and the urban North. She is interested in the identities and experiences of the black community and writes about their effects as a society. She has also authored several film and television scripts. Bambara is a frequent guest lecturer, visiting professor, and community leader. She received an American Book Award in 1981
Bell Hooks was born Gloria Watkins on September 25, 1952. She grew up in a small Southern community that gave her a sense of belonging as well as a sense of racial separation. She has degrees from Stanford University, the University of Wisconsin, and the University of California at Santa Cruz. She has served as a noted activist and social critic and has taught at numerous colleges. Hooks uses her great-grandmother's name to write under as a tribute to her ancestors. Hooks writes daring and controversial works that explore African-American female identities. In works such as Ain't I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism and Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black, she points out how feminism works for and against black women. Oppressed since slavery, black women must overcome the dual odds of race and gender discrimination to come to terms with equality and self-worth.