Mudbound (2017): Dee Rees’ Personal Indie, Exploring Race and Racism in the 1940s

In 2017, Dee Rees co-wrote with Virgil Williams and directed Mudbound, a period drama adapted from Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel of the same name.

The film was elevated by its high-profile ensemble, which included Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, and Mary J. Blige.

World-premiering at the 2017 Sundance Film Fest, Mudbound became the highest purchase that year, bought for $12.5 million by Netflix.

The film tells the story of two families in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940s. The McAllan family is white and their neighbors, the Jacksons, are black.

The Jacksons are sharecroppers who have a connection to the land, while the McAllans are a middle-class family that own a large plot of land in Mississippi.

Mudbound tells a story of racism, exploring the privileges of whiteness, while contrasting the experiences of white and Black folk of that era.

Personal Indie

It’s a personal feature for Rees, depicting, for example, her grandfather’s experiences in the army and her grandmother who aspired to be a stenographer, an ambition of one of the film’s characters.

Rees used her grandmother’s journal to help guide her process, and contained family photographs of their slave ancestors, with the names of who fought in wars. She used written text from the journal, a war ration book, and a photograph of her great grandmother.  It allowed her to probe her own family history, as well as telling a story with broader implications.

Breaking Oscar Records for Black Writers and Directors

Dee Rees and Virgil Williams were nominated for the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar for Mudbound, making Rees the first black woman to be nominated for any Academy Award in a writing category, and the first black woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

The nomination of Mary J. Blige for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar made Dee Rees the first black woman to direct a film for which an actor was nominated for an Academy Award.