Born in New York in 1952, Dash earned her undergraduate degree from the Leonard Davis Center for the Performing Arts at City College of New York, later procuring an MFA from the UCLA Film School. Among her first major projects was writing and directing the short Working Models of Success (1973) for the New York Urban Coalition. She would then direct short films like Four Women (1975) and Illusions (1982) in addition to commercials and PSAs.
When Dash finally broke through in 1991 with her feature-film debut, Daughters of the Dust, she became the first African-American woman to have a full-length theatrical release in the United States. The movie’s impeccably curated visuals, intense but subtle themes, and well-paced momentum made it a major phenomenon, and yet the film failed to garner Dash new feature film opportunities, as major and even minor studios remained dumbfounded about how to market films made by and about African-American women. She would spend the next several years making television movies before returning to the big screen with the documentary Travel Notes of a Geechee Girl (2017).