Dee Rees Interview: ‘Mudbound’ director
Although the story of “Mudbound” is set over 70 years ago, director Dee Rees finds it vitally important to today. During our recent webcam chat (watch the exclusive video above), she reveals, “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.” She adds, “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.”
Based on the novel by Hillary Jordan, this Netflix original follows two World War II veterans – one white (Garrett Hedlund) and one black (Jason Mitchell) – who return home to work with their respective families on a farm in rural Mississippi, where they struggle to deal with racism and PTSD. The ensemble cast also features Carey Mulligan, Jason Clarke, Mary J. Blige, Jonathan Banks, and Rob Morgan.
In our interview, Rees describes the film as “a story where there’s so many arcs. There’s so many lines between each of the characters, and two characters moving closer comes at the expense of a character moving further from another. I loved the constant tug and the elasticity of the relationships in this story.”
With its period trappings and multilayered storyline, “Mudbound” was an ambitious undertaking for a film shot in just 29 days on a low budget. One of the areas in which Rees sought to fashion a sense of scope was with the farm, designed by David J. Bomba. “One of the things we were trying to demonstrate was this interconnectedness of the families,” she reveals. The distances between the houses, the stables, and everything else on the set were “very calculated moves in terms of how to show the expanse of this landscape, and how it kind of dwarfs the homes, and dwarfs the people, but they’re still all connected.”
Rees competed at the Emmys for writing and directing the HBO movie “Bessie” (2015), for which she won the Directors Guild award. Her feature debut, “Pariah” (2011), won the John Cassavetes Award at the Indie Spirits. Should she receive an Oscar nomination for helming “Mudbound,” she would make history as the first African American woman to ever contend in that category, and would be only the fifth black filmmaker to compete overall (following John Singleton for “Boyz N the Hood” in 1991, Lee Daniels for “Precious” in 2009, Steve McQueen for “12 Years a Slave” in 2013, and Barry Jenkins for “Moonlight” in 2016).
“Mudbound” will be released worldwide on Netflix and in select theaters on November 17.