PARK CITY, Utah (AP) — Director Dee Rees wanted to get to the big questions in her enthralling period epic “Mudbound.” Specifically: What is it to be a citizen and what is it to fight for a country that doesn’t fight for you? The film, which premiered Saturday night at the Sundance Film Festival, had audiences raving and some already speculating about Oscar chances.
Based on Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel “Mudbound,” chronicles the lives of two families in the WWII-era South — one white and one black, and the complicated intersectionality of their paths. There’s the McAllans, Laura (Carey Mulligan), her husband Henry (Jason Clarke), his brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and their father Pappy (Jonathan Banks), and the Jacksons, Florence (Mary J. Blige), her husband Hap (Rob Morgan) and their son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell).
They’re tied together by a rental agreement — the Jackson’s rent their land and home from the McAllans — and the deeply complicated racial relationships in the segregated South in which Henry can demand help from Hap at any moment and Pappy can insist that Ronsel exit the local store from the back entrance.
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It’s a sprawling and deeply American story about women, men, race and personhood that defies a simple summary.
“It’s not didactic, it’s not preachy,” Rees said. “The thing I love about it is it’s multiple points of view.”
Both Jamie and Ronsel go off to fight in WWII, where Jamie’s once shiny life becomes clouded by the horrors of war and alcohol. Ronsel finds freedom and acceptance that he’d never had in the U.S. embodied in his appointment to Sergeant status and a relationship with a German girl. But back at home, nothing has changed.
“I wanted to juxtapose the battle at home versus the battle abroad with the battle at home sometimes being even bloodier than the battle abroad — to show these two families fighting on the front lines,” Rees said, whose grandfathers both fought in wars, one in WWII and one in Korea.
“Both went away and came back and both didn’t quite get what they should have gotten,” she said.
Rees, who directed “Pariah” and the HBO movie “Bessie,” found in the story a deep resonance with her grandmother too. She integrated images and truths from her grandmother’s life in the Louisiana into the story, like how she wanted to be a stenographer and not a sharecropper (one of the Jackson children declares this her dream) and how she remembered as a child being pulled on the back of a cotton sack.
Blige, who is earning raves for her subtle and deeply powerful performance as the Jackson family matriarch, also had a grandmother who grew up in the South in Savannah, Georgia. She channeled her to embody Florence.
“She was so strong and silent. She never really said a lot, but when she said something it meant something … She planted her own food, she killed her own chickens, she killed her own cows. (She) and my grandfather were Hap and Florence,” Blige said. “Southern people are really all about love, and that’s what I took. I’m born and raised in the Bronx in New York, and as a child I went down South every summer so I saw my grandmother give love. I was raised with ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am.’ ”
Though it’s been less than a day, so far the response has been rapturous. The audience at the premiere gave Rees and the cast a long standing ovation, and subsequent screenings have elicited similar praise. “Mudbound” does not yet have distribution, but it is expected to be one of the Festival’s hottest properties, and, one that people will be talking about long after Sundance comes to a close.
AP Entertainment Reporter Ryan Pearson contributed from Park City, Utah.
Behind the Scenes at The Willie Moore Jr. Show [PHOTOS]
1. Willie Moore with Evelyn Lozada and her daughter1 of 61
2. Mary Mary and Willie2 of 61
3. No Malice and Willie3 of 61
4. Willie and Jennifer Williams4 of 61
5. William Mcdowell5 of 61
6. The Hairstons6 of 61
7. Dr. Ian Smith with Willie Moore Jr.7 of 61
8. The Walls Group stopped by!8 of 61
9. Willie Moore with the "Growing up Hip-Hop" cast9 of 61
10. Willie Moore with the Ron Carter Academy10 of 61
11. Trina and Willie Moore11 of 61
12. Dick Gregory and Willie Moore Jr.12 of 61
13. Evander Holyfield and Willie Moore Jr.13 of 61
14. The Hairston's and Willie Moore14 of 61
15. Tim of Sweetie Pie's and Willie Moore Jr.15 of 61
16. Willie Moore Jr. and the Hudson brothers16 of 61
17. Tweet and Willie Moore Jr.17 of 61
18. Kim Fields and Willie snap a photo!18 of 61
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20. Willie and Kirk Franklin20 of 61
21. Kirk and Willie battle in a test of who is taller!21 of 61
22. Anita Wilson and Willie Moore Jr.22 of 61
23. Marlon Jackson and Willie Moore Jr.23 of 61
24. Sheryl Lee Ralph and Willie24 of 61
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26. Geoffrey Golden and Willie26 of 61
27. Marcus D. Wiley and Willie Moore Jr27 of 61
28. Anthony Brown and Willie28 of 61
29. Real Talk Kim and Willie Moore Jr.29 of 61
30. Willie Moore Jr. and Anthony Brown30 of 61
31. Lyfe Jennings and Willie Moore Jr.31 of 61
32. Willie and Vashawn Mitchell32 of 61
33. Aaron Cole and Willie Moore Jr.33 of 61
34. Alex Faith, Tim Bowman Jr. and Willie Moore Jr.34 of 61
35. Tim Bowman Jr. and Willie Moore Jr,35 of 61
36. Virtue stops by the studio!36 of 61
37. Erica Campbell with Willie's sons37 of 61
38. Erica Campbell and Willie38 of 61
39. Erica Campbell and Willie39 of 61
40. Erica Campbell with Willie's sons40 of 61
41. Demetria McKinney stops by.41 of 61
42. Tamar Braxton and Willie42 of 61
43. Bizzle and Willie snap a photo!43 of 61
44. Jonathan McReynolds performs in studio!44 of 61
45. Egypt Sherrod with Willie Moore Jr.45 of 61
46. Egypt Sherrod46 of 61
47. Egypt Sherrod with Willie Moore Jr.47 of 61
48. Willie and Kandi!48 of 61
49. Gail Devers49 of 61
50. Kandi Burruss50 of 61
51. Another snap of Willie Moore Jr. with gospel star Tasha Cobbs51 of 61
52. Willie and Kandi!52 of 61
53. Willie Moore Jr. snaps a photo with his wife and son53 of 61
54. Kandi Burruss54 of 61
55. Willie with gospel singer Canton JonesSource:Instagram 55 of 61
56. Willie Moore Jr. with gospel star Tasha Cobbs56 of 61
57. Willie Moore Jr. with his wife and sons Peyton and Princeton.Source:Instagram 57 of 61
58. Marvin Sapp in studio with Willie Moore Jr.58 of 61
59. Marvin Sapp and Willie Moore59 of 61
60. Willie Moore and Pastor Charles Jenkins60 of 61
61. Willie with Wess Morgan and Bishop Dale C. Bronner61 of 61