As Dee Rees’s racially charged, Oscar-tipped film Mudbound debuts on Netflix, we speak to the director about challenging the establishment, while below, we profile directors Eliza Hittman, the Safdie brothers and Chloé Zhao
In the opening scene of the new film Mudbound, two bedraggled white men are digging a hole, ominous storm clouds overhead. They are using old-fashioned shovels and it’s difficult immediately to date the action, but it becomes clear they are brothers, burying their father. When they realise the coffin will be too heavy for them to lower in, they stop a black family, passing by in a horse and trap. Only a few words are spoken, but the looks they exchange make it clear that there is history between these two families.
The ambiguity of the film’s time frame was intentional, explains Dee Rees, Mudbound’s 40-year-old director. The film is actually set in the 1940s in the Mississippi delta, but the scene could have taken place a century earlier or even, to a degree, shockingly recently. “Black people, we didn’t get the right to vote in America until 1965,” says Rees. “That’s not long ago at all! Women got the right in 1920, we got the vote in ’65. Even when I was growing up in Nashville, Tennessee, as a suburban middle-class kid in a poor white suburb, we were the only black family on the block and there were confederate flags as curtains. Growing up in the 1980s, which we think of as contemporary, I was bussed to school because a lot of the public schools in Nashville were still segregated. This was in the 80s! So our history is with us, this isn’t some far-away thing.”