At Sundance, back in 2012, Ava DuVernay became the first black woman to win Best Director for her film Middle Of Nowhere. Two years later, she directed Selma, which was the first film directed by a black woman to be nominated for Best Picture, though she was not nominated for Best Director.
This year at Sundance, everybody is talking about Dee Rees and her film Mudbound. Mudbound screened on Saturday to two standing ovations and, already, because this is what we do now, many are speculating that Mudbound (which Sarah has on her 10 To Watch list at Sundance this year) could be a factor at Oscar 2018 and whether or not it’ll be Dee Rees who becomes the first black woman nominated for Best Director.
Mudbound is adapted from Hillary Jordan’s book by the same name about two farming families, one black, the other white, in the South in the 1940s. So that’s Jim Crow. The film, like the book, is dense, exploring race and class, identity and loyalty, and family and gender roles. Jason Mitchell and Garrett Hedlund play two sons from each family who go off to war and the shared bond that results from that experience, but also the reality of coming home, being on the same side in battle, only to be separated by prejudice in peace. Most reviews I’ve read identify Carey Mulligan’s character (Garrett’s sister-in-law) as emotional core of the story but this is by all accounts an outstanding ensemble cast, with critics saying that Jason and Garrett are at their career-best and everyone singling out Mary J Blige as the revelation of the film.
Still, as of post time, Mudbound does not have distribution. It’ll be harder to get to the Oscars, despite all this acclaim, if there’s no financing to release it. This is why “buzz” is important. Because there are still people who make these money decisions who don’t think there will be an audience for it, that investment dollars are better spent on, well, the same narratives over and over again.