Dee Rees Breaks the Bounds of Filmmaking

Today is the anniversary of the release of the 2011 film Pariah, so we’re celebrating its writer and director, Dee Rees!

Dee Rees is a prolific writer and director, best known for her feature films Pariah (2011), Bessie (2015), Mudbound (2017), and The Last Thing He Wanted (2020). 

Dee bases a lot of her work on elements of her own experience, especially when it comes to her first major film, Pariah, which is semi-autobiographical. Beginning as a short film which Dee conceptualized during her time at the Institute of Film and Television at NYU and eventually evolving into a feature film, Pariah is about the journey and the struggle of a young Black teen coming out to her friends and family. 

Of Pariah, FF2 Editor-in-Chief Jan Lisa Huttner says, “Rees is telling a very personal and deeply-felt story in her first feature, and it has a raw truth reminiscent of She’s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee’s first feature from way back in 1986.” Of course, this is not a coincidence, as Spike Lee was a mentor for Dee, who worked on two of his films (When the Levees Broke and Inside Man) early in her career.”

Mudbound was also an incredible accomplishment for Dee. A period drama adapted from the 2008 novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan, Mudbound tells the story of two families–one, a family of white landowners, and the other, Black sharecroppers–in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940’s.

In a review of Mudbound, FF2 contributor Lindsy Bissonnette says, “From beautiful cinematic pans across hazy fields, to the powerful script, this film is a gripping, metaphoric mental game of classism, sexism, but most of all racism.” This film is incredibly nuanced and well-developed; in the words of FF2 contributor Katharine Cutler, “The world that Dee Rees creates is complicated, unfair, and immoral, yet extremely realistic. Her film creates feelings of familiarity in each scene. Every character is well developed, even the ones you hate, yet judgment being placed upon them for the choices they make is rare.” 

For Mudbound, Dee was the first Black woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, and the first Black woman to be nominated for a writing Oscar since Suzanne de Passe was nominated for Best Original Screenplay in 1972. 

As a queer, Black female filmmaker, Dee’s voice is both unique and vitally necessary in Hollywood. She has been monumental in breaking the bounds of the industry, both with the stories she tells and the acclaim that she achieves. Though she has already had an incredible career, with multiple major films and a few TV series in her slate–writing MGM’s adaptation of George Gershwin‘s Porgy and Bess. and writing and directing a musical fantasy entitled The Kyd’s Exquisite Follies–Dee is just getting started. 

© Julia Lasker (10/31/2022) FF2 Media


Read Sophia Jin’s celebration of Dee Rees here.

Check out Jan Lisa Huttner’s review of Pariah here.

Read Jessica Perry’s review of Mudbound here. 

Check out Katharine Cutler’s review of Mudbound here.

Read Brigid Presecky’s review of The Last Thing He Wanted here.

Read Katusha and Sophia Jin’s discussion of The Last Thing He Wanted here.


Featured photo: “Dee Rees discusses movie” by Harvey K is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Tags: Bessie, Dee Rees, LGBTQ, Mudbound, Oscars, Pariah, The Last Thing He Wanted

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As an associate for FF2 Media, Julia writes reviews and features for films made by women. She is currently a senior at Barnard College studying Psychology. Outside of FF2, her interests include acting, creative writing, thrift shopping, crafting, and making and eating baked goods. Julia has been at FF2 for almost 4 years, and loves the company and its mission dearly.
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