Dee Rees

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Dee Rees
Spike Lee, Dee Rees and David Carr (6747939623).jpg
Dee Rees (center) at Sundance Times Talk with Spike Lee (left)
Born February 7, 1977 (1977-02-07) (age 40)
Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Alma mater New York University
Florida A&M University
Occupation Film director, screenwriter
Years active 2005–present

Dee Rees is an American screenwriter and director[1] best known for her feature films Pariah, Bessie[2][3][4][5] and Mudbound.


An alumna of New York University’s graduate film program and a 2008 Sundance Screenwriting & Directing Lab Fellow, Dee Rees is a writer-director whose 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 with 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”. Lisa Schwartzman from 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”,[6] and the New York Daily News’ Joe Neumaier called the film “…[s]omething so honest and touching that you're instantly drawn in to its feelings and sense of place”. Pariah earned Dee a spot on The New York Times' "20 Directors to Watch" list in 2013.

Before embarking on the production of the full feature film, Dee 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. Dee 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.

Previously, Dee was selected as a 2008 Tribeca Institute/Renew Media Arts Fellow and appeared on Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film” that same year. She was also nominated for a USA Fellowship in 2009. Other notable residencies include Yaddo and MacDowell Colony.

Also in 2009, Dee’s feature documentary Eventual Salvation 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 after the devastating Liberian civil war that she barely escaped from a decade prior.

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.[7] 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.

Dee is also partnering with producer Shonda Rhimes on an adaptation of Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns for FX.

Prior to attending NYU to begin her career as a filmmaker, Dee graduated with an MBA from Florida A&M University and worked in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, Schering-Plough Pharmaceuticals, and Colgate Palmolive. Dee was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and currently resides in New York. She graduated from Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School in Nashville, Tennessee.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Rees is openly lesbian and described Pariah as semi-autobiographical.[8]


Feature films[edit]

Short films[edit]

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


Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Work Outcome
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 Prize 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 Award Best Director Won
Best Original Screenplay Won
Black Reel Award Best Screenplay, Original or Adapted Nominated
Best Director Nominated
Gotham Awards Breakthrough Director Won
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 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


  1. ^ Interview Magazine
  2. ^ Variety
  3. ^ Variety
  4. ^ The New York Times
  5. ^ DGA
  6. ^ Schwarzbaum, Lisa (January 17, 2015). "Pariah". Entertainment Weekly. 
  7. ^ "Bessie (2015)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved February 10, 2016. 
  8. ^ Swadhin, Amita. "GLAAD Interviews 'Pariah' Director Dee Rees". GLAAD. 

External links[edit]