Dee Rees

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Dee Rees
Rees in 2012
Diandrea Rees

(1977-02-07) February 7, 1977 (age 47)
Alma materNew York University
Florida A&M University
  • Film director
  • film producer
  • screenwriter
Years active2005–present
SpouseSarah M. Broom

Diandrea 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), Mudbound (2017), and The Last Thing He Wanted (2020). Rees has also written and directed episodes for television series including Empire, When We Rise, and Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams.

Rees is the first African-American woman nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, for Mudbound. She has also received Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Writing and Outstanding Directing for a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie, and won the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directing – Miniseries or TV Film for Bessie.

Reeds received a United States Artists Fellowship in 2011.[5]

Early life and education[edit]

Rees was born in 1977 in Nashville, Tennessee. Her father was a police officer[6] and her mother was a scientist at Vanderbilt University.[7] Rees attended local schools and college at Florida A&M University. After graduating from business school, Rees held an array of jobs, including working as a salesperson for panty-liners, a vendor for wart-remover and bunion pads,[8] and also worked in marketing and brand management.[9] 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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[10]


Rees' first full-length film was a documentary, Eventual Salvation (2009), which 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 the devastating Liberian Civil War only a decade earlier.

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 produce the film.[11] It premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival.[12] 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".[13] Pariah explores the complexities of religion, politics and socioeconomic class within and surrounding a Black family.[14] The short film version of Pariah was initially a thesis project done by Dee Rees in film school.[15] It was difficult to receive funding for the feature film, and the process took about five years to reach completion.[15] The format and content changed significantly from the short film to the feature film.[16] The transition from short film to feature film meant it needed to be more accessible for a wider audience in order to make money.[16] This accessibility reached new audiences and sparked new conversations that were focused on blackness and sexuality in a new way.[16]

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 color as they come to terms with their sexuality and come out to their friends and families.[14] In 2011, she won many awards for Pariah, including the John Cassavetes Award at the Independent Spirit Awards, the Gotham Independent Film Award for Breakthrough Director, the Outstanding Independent Motion Picture Award at the NAACP Image Awards, and the Outstanding Film –Limited Release Award at the GLAAD Media Award in 2012.[17]

Pariah has been compared to the written work of Audre Lorde, specifically Zami: a New Spelling of My Name.[14] 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.[14]

In 2015, Rees' film Bessie premiered on HBO, starring Queen Latifah as the iconic singer Bessie Smith.[18] The film was well received by critics.[19]

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.[8] Mudbound was shot in New Orleans over 28 days in the summer of 2016.[20] 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.[20] 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.[21] Mudbound tells 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 people of the period.[8] This work contains many personal connections for Rees, such as her grandfather's experiences in the army and her grandmother's aspiration to be a stenographer.[8] Rees used her grandmother's journal to help guide her process. It contained family photographs of their slave ancestors, with the names of who fought in wars. Rees says that by using this it was a way of interrogating her own personal history. She used written text from the journal, a war ration book, and a photograph of her great grandmother, and each one was an inspiration for something in Mudbound.[21]

Rees and Williams were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay for Mudbound, which made Rees the first African-American woman ever to be nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay, as well as the first African-American woman to be nominated for a writing Oscar since Suzanne de Passe was nominated for Best Original Screenplay for the 1972 film Lady Sings the Blues.[22][23] The nomination of Mary J. Blige for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Mudbound made Rees the first African-American woman to direct a film for which an actor or actress was nominated for an Academy Award.[24][25]

A lesser-known project of Rees' is 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.[26]

Rees is also attached to write and direct An Uncivil War for FilmNation.[27] In 2018, Rees was nominated for NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Directing and Outstanding Writing.[28]

Rees directed The Last Thing He Wanted, based upon the novel of the same name by Joan Didion, which stars Anne Hathaway and Willem Dafoe.[29][30][31] The film was distributed by Netflix.[32]

Rees directed multiple episodes of the Apple TV+ war miniseries Masters of the Air.[6]

Rees is currently set to write and direct MGM's feature film adaptation of George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.[33] She will be working alongside the film's producers, Irwin Winkler[33] and Charles Winkler.[33]

In 2019, Rees began work as writer and director for her upcoming film, The Kyd's Exquisite Follies.[34] An original script, the film is a musical fantasy about a young musician in search of stardom.[34] Rees is working alongside producer Cassian Elwes,[34] with singer-songwriter Santigold[34] set to compose.

In June 2021, Dee Rees was announced as the first African-American woman to direct a Criterion film.[35] With the addition of her breakout film, Pariah (2011), Criterion has acknowledged its need for the addition of more female directors and director of color, and has vowed to bring more diversity to light.[35]



Rees has said that she was inspired by the realistic directorial style of Cassavetes,[36] and the cinematographer Bradford Young's organic style on the television show Friday Night Lights.[36]

Method and Themes[edit]

As with Rees's first breakout feature, Pariah (2011), Dee Rees pulls much of her directorial influence from her own life.[7] Rees also cites her own life experiences in the protagonist of her newest project, The Kyd's Exquisite Follies.[7] As a Black lesbian filmmaker, Rees's intersectional identity is a huge part of her and is also unique in Hollywood. Rees has said that her dissimilarity from much of Hollywood has only amplified the importance of translating her experience into her films.[7]

Rees's sexuality makes an appearance in her films, such as her 2011 film Pariah (2011), which tells the story of a teenage Black girl navigating the exploration of her sexuality.[10] HBO's Bessie (2015), also written and directed by Rees, explores the sexual identity of blues singer Bessie Smith.[1] Rees also described the protagonist of her latest project, The Kyd's Exquisite Follies as androgynous,[7] again connecting her own experience of sexuality to her filmmaking.

Rees's identity as a Black woman is also very prevalent in her films, as Black women are extremely central in her films, such as Pariah (2011), Mudbound (2017), Bessie (2015), and a few of her upcoming projects.

Still early in her career, Rees has shown a large array of stylistic choices in her films in her exploration for her identity as a filmmaker. However, Rees has been said to spend hours on shots that end up only being a few seconds, focusing intently on visual details.[7]


Spike Lee was Rees's mentor throughout her time at NYU Tisch, and the two worked on films together such as Inside Man (2006) and When The Levees Broke (2006). Lee also worked as a producer on Rees's breakout film, Pariah (2011).

Cassian Elwes, producer of Mudbound (2017), has worked with Rees on multiple projects, such as The Last Thing He Wanted (2020) and Rees's upcoming project, The Kyd's Exquisite Follies.

Personal life[edit]

Rees is a lesbian, and she described Pariah as semi-autobiographical.[37] On National Coming Out Day in 2011, in an interview with, Rees discussed her coming out experience. When she came out her parents weren't accepting. They sent her emails, cards, letters and Bible verses. Rees sees Pariah as semi-autobiographical because she can relate to the main concepts of the film.[38]

Since at least 2017, Rees has been in a relationship with poet and writer Sarah M. Broom.[39] They are now married and currently reside in Harlem.[7]

Rees, who is of African American descent, incorporates her family's history, specifically her own grandmother's, in her 2017 film Mudbound where American violence and racism are more relevant to the lives of all citizens and a marker of each individual's identity.[40]


Short Film[edit]

Year Title Director Writer
2005 Orange Bow Yes Yes
2007 Pariah Yes Yes
2009 Colonial Gods Yes Yes


Year Title Director Writer
2011 Pariah Yes Yes
2017 Mudbound Yes Yes
2020 The Last Thing He Wanted Yes Yes


Year Title Director Writer Notes
2015 Bessie Yes Yes TV movie
Empire Yes No Episode "Without a Country"
2017 When We Rise Yes No 2 episodes
2018 Electric Dreams Yes Yes Episode "Kill All Others"
2020 Space Force Yes No 2 episodes
2023 Saint X Yes No Episode "A Lovely Nowhere"; also executive producer[41]
2024 Masters of the Air Yes Yes Directed 2 episodes, co-wrote 1 episode

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Association Category Work Result
2007 Chicago Gay and Lesbian International Film Festival Best Narrative Short Pariah (2007) 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 (2011) 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 Screenplay Nominated
Georgia Film Critics Association Best Adapted Screenplay Nominated
Humanitas Prize Feature – Drama Won
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. ^ a b 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. ^ "United States Artists » Dee Rees". Retrieved 2023-02-26.
  6. ^ a b Keegan, Rebecca (June 17, 2021). "Director Dee Rees on the Importance of Debut 'Pariah' Becoming a Criterion Release: "We Have to Widen the Canon"". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 20 June 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Wortham, Jenna (February 6, 2020). "Dee Rees and the Art of Surviving as a Black Female Director". The New York Times Magazine. Archived from the original on April 26, 2020. Retrieved May 13, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c d e f "This is Us: Dee Rees's Mudbound". Film Comment. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  9. ^ 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.
  10. ^ a b Pariah, retrieved 2018-10-12
  11. ^ RICH, B. RUBY. “Park City Remix.” Film Quarterly, vol. 64, no. 3, 2011, pp. 62–65. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  12. ^ George, Nelson (December 23, 2011). "New Directors Flesh Out Black America, All of It". The New York Times.
  13. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (January 17, 2015). "Pariah". Entertainment Weekly.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ 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 (2): 266–297. doi:10.1080/10894160.2015.1062972. PMID 26914826. S2CID 46234153.
  15. ^ a b Loist, Skadi (2015). "Crossover Dreams: Global Circulation of Queer Film on the Film Festival Circuits". Diogenes. 62: 57–72. doi:10.1177/0392192116667014. S2CID 212714719.
  16. ^ a b c Keeling, Kara; DeClue, Jennifer; Welbon, Yvonne; Stewart, Jacqueline; Rastegar, Roya (9 May 2015). "Pariah and Black Independent Cinema Today: A Roundtable Discussion". GLQ. 21 (2): 423–439. doi:10.1215/10642684-2843251. S2CID 142285805. Project MUSE 581608.
  17. ^ "Dee Rees | Free The Bid". Free The Bid. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  18. ^ Littleton, Cynthia (May 6, 2015). "'Bessie' Director Dee Rees on Bessie Smith's Ferocity and Facing Prejudice". Variety.
  19. ^ "Bessie (2015)". Rotten Tomatoes. September 2015. Retrieved February 10, 2016.
  20. ^ a b Setoodeh, Ramin (2017-09-05). "Can Netflix Crash the Oscars With Dee Rees' 'Mudbound'?". Variety. Retrieved 2018-04-21.
  21. ^ a b Anderson, Tre'vell (3 November 2017). "Dee Rees gave 'Mudbound' a personal touch with the help of her grandmother's journal". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2018-04-21.
  22. ^ Libby Hill (24 January 2018). "Dee Rees becomes first black woman Oscar-nominated for adapted screenplay with 'Mudbound'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  23. ^ Rachel Withers (23 January 2018). "The 2018 Oscar nominees include these historic firsts". Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  24. ^ Madison Medeiros (2018-01-19). "Netflix Mudbound Broke 4 Oscar Records Mostly For Women". Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  25. ^ "'Mudbound' director Dee Rees shoots for the stars and gets her dream cast". LA Times. 2017-01-27. Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  26. ^ Tapley, Kristopher (2018-01-18). "Playback: Dee Rees on 'Mudbound' and Her Trump-Inspired 'Electric Dreams' Episode". Variety. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  27. ^ "Rep Sheet Roundup: Dee Rees Signs With Anonymous Content". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-02-14.
  28. ^ "NAACP Image Awards: 'Marshall,' 'Get Out,' 'Girls Trip' Dominate Film Nominations". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2018-10-12.
  29. ^ Seetoodeh, Ramin (September 27, 2017). "Dee Rees to Direct Movie Adaptation of Joan Didion Novel 'The Last Thing He Wanted'". Variety. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  30. ^ Tartaglione, Nancy (February 18, 2018). "Anne Hathaway To Star In Dee Rees' 'The Last Thing He Wanted' – Berlin". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  31. ^ Kroll, Justin (June 1, 2018). "Willem Dafoe Joins Anne Hathaway in Dee Rees' 'The Last Thing He Wanted' (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  32. ^ Kit, Borys (May 24, 2018). "Netflix Reteams With 'Mudbound' Filmmaker Dee Rees for 'The Last Thing He Wanted' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved July 3, 2018.
  33. ^ a b c Fleming, Mike Jr. (2020-02-11). "Dee Rees To Write & Direct New Movie Adaptation Of George Gershwin's 'Porgy And Bess' For MGM & Winkler Films". Deadline. Retrieved 2021-12-07.
  34. ^ a b c d Fleming, Mike Jr. (2019-06-17). "Dee Rees To Write/Direct Musical Fantasy 'The Kyd's Exquisite Follies'; Santigold Writing Music". Deadline. Retrieved 2021-12-07.
  35. ^ a b ""This Precious, Precious Thing": Dee Rees on Pariah's Historic Criterion Release". Vanity Fair. 2021-06-11. Retrieved 2021-12-07.
  36. ^ a b updated, Katey Rich last (2012-01-02). "Pariah Director Dee Rees Talks Spike Lee's Influence And Telling Personal Stories". CINEMABLEND. Retrieved 2021-12-07.
  37. ^ Swadhin, Amita (December 29, 2011). "GLAAD Interviews 'Pariah' Director Dee Rees". GLAAD. Archived from the original on November 7, 2017. Retrieved February 11, 2017.
  38. ^ cl_admin (2011-10-18). "'Pariah' Film Director Dee Rees Talks About Coming Out Queer". ColorLines. Retrieved 2018-04-21.
  39. ^ Hornaday, Ann (10 November 2017). "Dee Rees wanted to make 'an old-fashioned movie' and ended up with an Oscar contender". Washington Post.
  40. ^ "Director Dee Rees talks Mudbound, racism, and women in Hollywood". The Independent. 2017-11-17. Retrieved 2018-02-12.
  41. ^ Otterson, Joe (January 24, 2022). "Hulu Orders Series Adaptation of Alexis Schaitkin Psychological Drama Novel 'Saint X'". Variety. Retrieved March 21, 2023.

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