Sundance Babes: Women Directors–Rees, Dee (Pariah, Mudbound)

An alumna of New York University’s graduate film program and Sundance Screenwriting & Directing Lab Fellow, Dee Rees is a writer-director whose bold feature debut Pariah premiered to great acclaim at the 2011 Sundance Film Fest.

Pariah was honored with the Festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition “Excellence in Cinematography” Award (Bradford Young) and picked up by Focus Features.

The film was honored with many awards including the “John Cassavetes Award” at the Independent Spirit Awards, the Gotham Award for “Best Breakthrough Director,” “Outstanding Film –Limited Release” at the 2012 GLAAD Media Award, and 7 NAACP Image Award nominations, winning “Outstanding Independent Motion Picture”.

Pariah earned Dee a spot on the New York Times’ “20 Directors to Watch” list in 2013.

Dee was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, where she graduated from Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School.

Prior to attending NYU, Dee graduated with an MBA from Florida A&M University and worked in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals, and Colgate Palmolive.

Before making feature film, Dee took the first act of the Pariah script and directed it as a short for her graduate thesis project at NYU.

In 2007, the short played at numerous film festivals around the world, winning accolades, including the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

Dee first met Spike Lee at NYU as a professor, who became her mentor. She served as an intern on Lee’s films Inside Man and When the Levees Broke. Lee functioned as executive producer on the feature version of Pariah.

Previously, Dee was selected as a 2008 Tribeca Institute/Renew Media Arts Fellow and appeared on Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” that same year.

In 2009, Dee’s feature documentary Eventual Salvation aired on the Sundance Channel. The docu follows her American-born 80-year-old grandmother Amma as she returns to Monrovia, Liberia to rebuild her community after the devastating Liberian civil war, from which she had escaped a decade prior.

In 2015, Rees’ film Bessie premiered on HBO, starring Queen Latifah as the iconic singer, Bessie Smith. Well received by critics, the film won four Emmy Awardd, including Outstanding TV Movie. Rees was also nominated for writing and directing the film.

Dee is partnering with producer Shonda Rhimes on the adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns for FX.



Eventual Salvation (2008)

Pariah (2011)

Bessie (2015)

Mudbound (2017)

Short films

Orange Bow (2005)

Pariah (2007)

Colonial Gods (2009)


Empire (2015) Season 2, Episode 2.