Dee Rees

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Dee Rees
Spike Lee, Dee Rees and David Carr (6747939623) (cropped).jpg
Rees at Sundance Times Talk in 2012
Born Diandrea Rees
(1977-02-07) February 7, 1977 (age 41)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Alma mater New York University
Florida A&M University
Occupation Director, screenwriter
Years active 2005–present

Diandrea "Dee" Rees[1] (born February 7, 1977) is an American screenwriter and director.[2][3][4] She is known for her feature films Pariah (2011), Bessie (2015), and Mudbound (2017). The latter was adapted from the 2008 novel by the same name by Hillary Jordan and earned Rees an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Rees has also written and directed episodes for television series including Empire, When We Rise, and Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams.

Early life and education[edit]

Rees was born in 1977 in Nashville, Tennessee, she attended local schools and college at Florida A&M University. After business school, Rees held an array of jobs, including working as a salesperson for panty-liners, a vendor for wart-remover and bunion pads,[5] and also worked in marketing and brand management.[6] While working for Dr. Scholl's, Rees worked on set for a commercial and she realized she enjoyed the creation of film content. This led her to pursue film school,[5] for graduate school, she attended New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. While at New York University for film, Spike Lee was her professor and mentor.[5] Dee Rees went on to work under Spike Lee on his films Inside Man (2006) and When the Levees Broke (2006). During this time, she worked on a script for what would later be the feature film Pariah, for her graduate thesis, she adapted the first act of the script and directed it as a short film of the same name. In 2007, the short played at 40 film festivals around the world, winning numerous accolades, including the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival.


Rees' first full-length film was a documentary, Eventual Salvation (2009), aired on the Sundance Channel, the film follows her American-born, 80-year-old grandmother, Amma, as she returns to Monrovia, Liberia to rebuild her home and community. She had barely escaped a decade earlier from the devastating Liberian civil war.

Rees completed development and filming of her debut feature film, Pariah, which she has described as semi-autobiographical; in graduate school Rees interned for Spike Lee, whom she got to executive direct the film.[7] It premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.[8] Rees was nominated for NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Writing, and won the Gotham Award for Best Breakthrough Director. Lisa Schwartzman of Entertainment Weekly wrote, "In her fearless, world-here-I-am! debut Pariah, writer-director Dee Rees demonstrates, with simplicity and verve, that there's no substitute for authenticity".[9] Pariah explores the complexities of religion, politics and socioeconomic class within and surrounding a Black family.[10] The short film version of Pariah was initially a thesis project done by Dee Rees in film school,[11] it was difficult to receive funding for the feature film, and the process took about five years to reach completion.[11] The format and content changed significantly from the short film to the feature film,[12] the transition from short film to feature film meant it needed to be more accessible for a wider audience in order to make money.[12] This accessibility reached new audiences and sparked new conversations that were focused on blackness and sexuality in a new way,[12] at the time Pariah (2011) was released, the film was one of the very few films that follow the journey of a young person of colour as they come to terms with their sexuality and come out to their friends and families.[10]

Pariah has been compared to the written work of Audre Lorde, specifically Zami: a New Spelling of my name.[10] Both forms provide a different take on the lived experiences of young Black lesbian women in a way that gives the characters depth and power. Both stories of identity, they are not only diversifying the characters audiences enjoy in media, but also providing an authentic expression of these lives.[10]

In 2015, Rees' film Bessie premiered on HBO, starring Queen Latifah as the iconic singer Bessie Smith.[13] The film was well received by critics.[14]

It also won four Primetime Emmy Awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie. Rees was nominated for Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special and Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special.

Together with Virgil Williams, Rees wrote Mudbound, a period drama adapted from the 2008 novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan. Rees also directed the film, starring Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell, and Mary J. Blige. After being shown at Sundance in 2017, Mudbound became the highest purchase of the festival, being bought for $12.5 million by Netflix.[5] The film shows a story of racism and race relations that continue to be played out today, the movie explores whiteness and the privilege associated with it, while comparing and contrasting the experiences of white and Black folk of the period.[5] This work contains many personal connections for Rees, such as her grandfathers experiences in the army and her grandmother who aspired to be a stenographer, an ambition shared with one of the characters in the film.[5]

Rees and Williams were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Mudbound, which made 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.[15][16] As well, the nomination of Mary J. Blige for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Mudbound made Rees the first black woman to direct a film for which an actor or actress was nominated for an Academy Award.[17][18]

Dee Rees has recently signed with commercial representation group called Anonymous Content.[19]

A lesser-known project of Rees' includes the show Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, where Rees was given the chance to engage with the many emotions looming around the election of Donald Trump, and manipulate them within a sci-fi context, which is now streaming on Amazon Prime.[20]

Rees has upcoming projects including writing and directing An Uncivil War for FilmNation[19] and will adapt The Last Thing He Wanted.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Rees is a lesbian, and she described Pariah as semi-autobiographical.[21]

Since at least 2017 Rees has been in a relationship with poet & writer Sarah M. Broom.[22]

Rees, who is of African American descent, incorporates her family's history, specifically her own grandmother's, in her most recent film Mudbound where American violence and racism are more relevant to the lives of all citizens and a marker of each individual's identity.[23]


Feature films[edit]

Short films[edit]

  • Orange Bow (2005)
  • Pariah (2007)
  • Colonial Gods (2009)


Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Work Result
2007 Chicago Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival Best Narrative Short Pariah Won
Iris Prize Festival Iris Prize Won
Los Angeles Film Festival Audience Award – Best Short Film Won
Palm Springs International ShortFest Future Filmmaker Award Won
Best Live Action Over 15 Minutes Won
San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival Audience Award – Best Short Won
Urbanworld Film Festival Best Narrative Short Won
2008 Ashland Independent Film Festival Best Student Film Won
2011 Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Woman Director Pariah Nominated
Best Woman Screenwriter Nominated
Black Film Critics Circle Best Director Won
Best Original Screenplay Won
Black Reel Awards Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Gotham Awards Breakthrough Director Won
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture (Theatrical or Television) Nominated
Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Theatrical or Television) Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards Independent Spirit John Cassavetes Award Won
Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize Nominated
Women Film Critics Circle Awards Best Woman Storyteller Nominated
2015 Primetime Emmy Awards Outstanding Directing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Bessie Nominated
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie or a Dramatic Special Nominated
2016 Directors Guild of America Awards Outstanding Directing – Miniseries or TV Film Won
2017 Academy Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Mudbound Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists Best Woman Director Nominated
Best Woman Screenwriter Nominated
Austin Film Festival Audience Award – Marquee Feature Won
Chicago Film Critics Association Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
Critics' Choice Movie Awards Best Adapted Screeplay Nominated
Georgia Film Critics Association Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
Humanitas Prize Feature – Drama Pending
Independent Spirit Awards Independent Spirit Robert Altman Award Won
NAACP Image Awards Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture Nominated
Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture Nominated
New York Film Critics Online Best Director Won
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
San Diego Film Critics Society Best Adapted Screenplay Runner-up
Satellite Awards Best Director Nominated
St. Louis Gateway Film Critics Association Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
USC Scripter Awards Best Screenplay Nominated
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Best Director Nominated
Best Adapted Screenplay Won
Women Film Critics Circle Best Woman Storyteller Nominated
Courage in Filmmaking Won
Writers Guild of America Awards Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Daniels, Karu F. (May 14, 2015). "Filmmaker Dee Rees Gets Queen Latifah to Bare All in 'Bessie'". NBC News. 
  2. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (May 5, 2015). "Dee Rees, Shonda Rhimes Developing Historical Drama 'Warmth of Other Suns' For FX". Variety. 
  3. ^ Vollmer, Deenah (December 15, 2011). "How Dee Rees Built a Cocoon". Interview. 
  4. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (2014). "Not Singing the Blues". Directors Guild of America. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "This is Us: Dee Rees's Mudbound". Film Comment. Retrieved 2018-02-14. 
  6. ^ Ramos, Dino-Ray (2017-10-23). "'Mudbound' Director Dee Rees Talks Career Trajectory, Choosing Producers, And Her Love For Ensemble Casts". Deadline. Retrieved 2018-02-14. 
  7. ^ RICH, B. RUBY. “Park City Remix.” Film Quarterly, vol. 64, no. 3, 2011, pp. 62–65. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  8. ^ George, Nelson (December 23, 2011). "New Directors Flesh Out Black America, All of It". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (January 17, 2015). "Pariah". Entertainment Weekly. 
  10. ^ a b c d Kang, Nancy (2016). "Audre's daughter: Black lesbian steganography in Dee Rees' Pariah and Audre Lorde's Zami: A new spelling of my name". Journal of Lesbian Studies. 20: 266–297. 
  11. ^ a b Loist, Skadi (2015). "Crossover Dreams: Global Circulation of Queer Film on the Film Festival Circuits". Diogenes. 62: 57–72. 
  12. ^ a b c Keeling, Kara; DeClue, Jennifer; Welbon, Yvonne; Stewart, Jacqueline; Rastegar, Roya (2015-06-01). "Pariah and Black Independent Cinema TodayA Roundtable Discussion". GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies. 21 (2-3): 423–439. doi:10.1215/10642684-2843251. ISSN 1064-2684. 
  13. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (May 6, 2015). "'Bessie' Director Dee Rees on Bessie Smith's Ferocity and Facing Prejudice". Variety. 
  14. ^ "Bessie (2015)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 10, 2016. 
  15. ^ Libby Hill. "Dee Rees becomes first black woman Oscar-nominated for adapted screenplay with 'Mudbound'". Retrieved 2018-01-24. 
  16. ^ Rachel Withers. "The 2018 Oscar nominees include these historic firsts". Retrieved 2018-01-24. 
  17. ^ Madison Medeiros (2018-01-19). "Netflix Mudbound Broke 4 Oscar Records Mostly For Women". Retrieved 2018-01-24. 
  18. ^ "'Mudbound' director Dee Rees shoots for the stars and gets her dream cast". LA Times. 2017-01-27. Retrieved 2018-01-24. 
  19. ^ a b c "Rep Sheet Roundup: Dee Rees Signs With Anonymous Content". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-02-14. 
  20. ^ Tapley, Kristopher (2018-01-18). "Playback: Dee Rees on 'Mudbound' and Her Trump-Inspired 'Electric Dreams' Episode". Variety. Retrieved 2018-02-14. 
  21. ^ Swadhin, Amita (December 29, 2011). "GLAAD Interviews 'Pariah' Director Dee Rees". GLAAD. 
  22. ^ Hornaday, Ann. "Dee Rees wanted to make 'an old-fashioned movie' and ended up with an Oscar contender". Retrieved 8 January 2018. 
  23. ^ "Director Dee Rees talks Mudbound, racism, and women in Hollywood". The Independent. 2017-11-17. Retrieved 2018-02-12. 

External links[edit]