In the male-dominated film business women filmmakers have always been too small a minority. There is progress being made but women’s voices deserve to be heard more often.
My look at Women filmmakers continues with Dee Rees, film director and screenwriter. Rees is an alumna of New York University’s graduate film program and a Sundance screenwriting & directing Lab fellow.
“Nothing I do is didactic. I just want to hold up a mirror and say, ‘This is who we are.’”
In a very short time filmmaker Dee Rees has directed two of the finest Independent films in modern cinema.
In 2011’s “Pariah” Rees expanded her short film of the same name to create a film that is alive and honest and one that announced a fresh new cinematic voice.
Written and directed by Rees, “Pariah” is a powerful coming-of-age drama about an African-American lesbian who tries to be true to herself at the risk of alienation from her family. The film accurately depicts the spread of homophobia among black men. Reed presents this issue as a disease of the mind where they are projecting their own feelings of self-disgust, anger, and alienation upon others whom they perceive as different.
The director was attacked by some for her honesty in her portrayal of the Black community in Brooklyn but anyone considering this film a sort of “Precious-lite” is far of course. “Pariah” is a powerful film, full of integrity, that is light-years ahead of that overrated dud “Precious.”
For her great work on “Pariah,” Rees won the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards.
HBO seduced her for the 2015 biopic “Bessie,” examining the life of Blues singer Bessie Smith. It was an average effort but it felt too by the numbers. Rees said that HBO already had a direction they wanted the film to go in and that this was stifling, at times.
Later, Dee Rees gave us “Mudbound” (2017), an insightful and emotional piece that sounds a powerful and timely call to resist any acceptance of racism.
Of her film, Rees was quoted as saying, “As a country, we have not really addressed our national history. If you can’t take on our national history, we can certainly each look at our personal histories. Everything that’s happening in our country lets us know that we’ve always been this way. This is not new, and this is a moment where we can decide to change if we talk about our inheritance, and […] how we’re going to spend it going forward.”
Her screenplay (written with Virgil Williams and based on the novel by Hillary Jordan) got Rees nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, a first time for a black woman. The film would also be nominated for Best Cinematography, Song, and Supporting Actress, for Mary J. Blige.
With only three features to her name, Dee Rees has become a strong voice in independent cinema.
Rees’ next film will be the Thriller “The Last Thing He Wanted,” starring Anne Hathaway and Willem Dafoe. She is also developing a horror film about a lesbian African American couple who are haunted by ghosts.
My favorite Rees film is: “Pariah” (2011)
In 2018, Dee became the first Black woman nominated for an Oscar in the Best Adapted Screenplay category for “Mudbound” (2017).