By Anqelique Beckford
FAMU alumna Dee Rees, who directed Netflix’s “Mudbound,” recently earned an Oscar nomination for her work adapting the film’s script alongside Virgil Williams. Although she did not take home an Oscar this month, Rees still managed to make history. She became the first-ever Black woman director to be nominated in the competitive adapted screenplay category.
After attending Florida A&M University, Rees went on to graduate school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts as a film student. During this time, she worked on a script for what would later be the feature film, “Pariah.” She also became a protege of acclaimed filmmaker Spike Lee. Her graduate work played at more than 40 film festivals around the world, winning numerous accolades, including the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
FAMU theatre student Chelsea Maloney is inspired by Rees’ accomplishments.
“I think it’s a fantastic and inspirational thing to see FAMU alumni going out into the world and taking control of their careers,” Maloney said. “It’s especially interesting to see that Dee Rees came to FAMU as a political Science student, continued on to receive her MBA and still soared beyond the confines of any particular subject or field.”
“Mudbound,” which earned three other Oscar nominations has performed well in precursor writing competitions, earning nominations from the Writers Guild Awards Critics’ and Choice Awards.
“It’s not a shock that she was nominated for one of the most prestigious awards in the industry. She is worthy and capable,” said Journalism professor Kalisha Whitman.
Whitman said that it saddens her that it takes longer for varying subsets of society to be acknowledged. However, she hopes trailblazers, such as Dee Rees, will continue to blaze the path — to continue to make way for all who are worthy.
In an interview with Fox 4 News, Rees revealed some of her secrets to successful filmmaking.
“To me, it starts with the performance,” said Rees. “It’s more than the costume and the set, we as performers have to believe these character relationships.”
Rees also said that it’s about making the actors understand the intentions behind why they’re saying what they’re saying.
“Knowing the why helps things flow more realistically,” she added in the Fox interview.
Associate Director of Theatre Luther Wells said Rees’ accomplishments provide hope for the future.
“If society continues moving in a positive direction, I believe one day people — regardless of gender, race or creed — will get the chance to be in the company of greatness, through prestigious nominations and awards.”
Along with Dee Rees, actresses Mary J. Blige and Octavia Spencer also received Oscar nods, each one made Oscar history for Black women in the process.