Black History Highlight – Dee Rees


Dee Rees is a writer-director from Nashville, Tennessee. She received her undergraduate degree from Florida A&M University and went on to attend  New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts as a film student. Rees was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Mudbound, which made Rees the first queer 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. 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.

Her feature film Pariah premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. 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 many awards including the “John Cassavetes Award” at the Independent Spirit Awards (2011), the Gotham Award for “Best Breakthrough Director” (2011), “Outstanding Film –Limited Release” at the GLAAD Media Award (2012), and 7 NAACP Image Award nominations including “Outstanding Motion Picture”, “Outstanding Directing”, and “Outstanding Writing” with the win for “Outstanding Independent Motion Picture”.

Before embarking on the production of the full feature film, Rees initially took the first act of the Pariah script and directed it as a short film for her graduate thesis film project at NYU. In 2007, the short film played at 40 film festivals around the world, winning numerous accolades including the Audience Award at the Los Angeles Film Festival. Rees first met Spike Lee at NYU as a professor, and he quickly became an active mentor to her; she served as an intern on Spike’s films Inside Man and When the Levees Broke, and Spike was an Executive Producer on the feature version of Pariah.

In 2015, Rees’ film Bessie premiered on HBO, and starred Queen Latifah as the iconic singer, Bessie Smith. The film was well received by critics. It won four Primetime Emmy Awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie. In addition, Rees was nominated for writing and directing the film.

Rees has partnered with producer Shonda Rhimes on an adaption of Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Suns” for FX, has directed TV episodes for Empire and the upcoming When We Rise, and is currently filming a feature, Mudbound, starring Cary Mulligan and Garrett Hedlund.

Rees was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in New York.

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