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'Mudbound' exposes harsh truths of America's past and asks us not to look away

Mary J. Blige and director Dee Rees (L-R) on the set of
Mary J. Blige and director Dee Rees (L-R) on the set of "Mudbound."
Steve Dietl / Netflix
Mary J. Blige and director Dee Rees (L-R) on the set of
Jason Mitchell, Garrett Hedlund and director Dee Rees (L-R) on the set of "Mudbound."
Steve Dietl / Netflix
Mary J. Blige and director Dee Rees (L-R) on the set of
Mary J. Blige as Florence Jackson and Carey Mulligan as Laura McAllan (L-R) in a scene from "Mudbound."
Steve Dietl/Netflix

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“Mudbound” tells the interconnected story of two farming families— the McAllans and the Jacksons, one white and one black— in rural, post-World War II Mississippi.

When Jamie McAllan and Ronsel Jackson return home as veterans, they’re forced to readjust to the harsh realities of life in the Jim Crow-era South.

“Mudbound” was co-written and directed by Dee Rees. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Hillary Jordan.

Jordan’s book won the Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, presented by author Barbara Kingsolver.  When she picked it, Kingsolver said, “I love that you understand everybody, even though everyone isn’t right. And in the long run some people are very wrong.”

When The Frame host John Horn spoke with Dee Rees, she explained how she carried that perspective from the book into her film.


On why she pushes back on the idea that the film is "difficult to watch," despite the fact that it includes some disturbing instances of racial violence

I feel like that phrase sometimes gives people an excuse to look away or an excuse to not watch, when we watch gangster movies all the time as a society, we watch boxing movies all the time as a society. We watch extended fantasy gun chase sequences, or we can watch an extended war scene, but when it comes to racial terrorism suddenly it becomes hard to watch. So I just want to be careful with that idea because I don't want to give people a reason to look away.

On the decision to include the internal perspectives of all the main characters in the film

For this film, for me it was very important to explore the layers of it and give everyone a complete worldview. To not apologize for their worldview or rationalize it and give it the sugarcoated Oh they were just a man of their times or She was just a woman of her times, but to really make it particular to each person. And for me when I came on and re-wrote the script— the first script was by a writer named Virgil Williams— it was really important for me to bring that rounded worldview to the Jackson family in particular, so that they weren't just thought of, but that they had their own thoughts, they had their own agency, and they had their own context. Because I think a lot of times, black characters in literature or in film are presented without context. They just kind of appear on the landscape and therefore we don’t get as deep of an insight into them. And so, the thing I liked about the book is that it didn't protect Pappy, it didn't protect Henry and Laura [McAllan]. And in the film, I wanted to make sure that each of them is shown as participating in this system, although they're participating in different ways.

On why it was important to her to show that the matriarchs of the two families had authority and agency 

It's women who bear the brunt of war, so it was important to show these two wives and mothers fighting on their own front lines. It's Laura who bears the brunt of Henry's capitalist disregard for the Atwood family. It's easier for Henry to fire a guy, but then it's Laura who has to deal with the pregnant wife knocking on the back door and finding a way to negotiate that peace. It's the same thing with the Jackson family. When Ronsel goes off to war, it kind of falls upon Florence to kind of internalize the worry, internalize the fear almost for the whole family, and not let that seep out into the discourse. She is the one that has to believe that it's going to be okay, and then on a practical level when Hap breaks his leg, she's always been a contributing partner, but it's her who stands in the gap and has to pick up the slack and takes the sacrifice of subordinating herself to the McAllan family to kind of keep the family ticking along. So it was important to see Laura and Florence fighting on their own front lines, not just the soldiers.

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