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. The Manns1 of 62
2. Willie Moore with Evelyn Lozada and her daughter2 of 62
3. Mary Mary and Willie3 of 62
4. No Malice and Willie4 of 62
5. Willie and Jennifer Williams5 of 62
6. William Mcdowell6 of 62
7. The Hairstons7 of 62
8. Dr. Ian Smith with Willie Moore Jr.8 of 62
9. The Walls Group stopped by!9 of 62
10. Willie Moore with the "Growing up Hip-Hop" cast10 of 62
11. Willie Moore with the Ron Carter Academy11 of 62
12. Trina and Willie Moore12 of 62
13. Dick Gregory and Willie Moore Jr.13 of 62
14. Evander Holyfield and Willie Moore Jr.14 of 62
15. The Hairston's and Willie Moore15 of 62
16. Tim of Sweetie Pie's and Willie Moore Jr.16 of 62
17. Willie Moore Jr. and the Hudson brothers17 of 62
18. Tweet and Willie Moore Jr.18 of 62
19. Kim Fields and Willie snap a photo!19 of 62
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21. Willie and Kirk Franklin21 of 62
22. Kirk and Willie battle in a test of who is taller!22 of 62
23. Anita Wilson and Willie Moore Jr.23 of 62
24. Marlon Jackson and Willie Moore Jr.24 of 62
25. Sheryl Lee Ralph and Willie25 of 62
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27. Geoffrey Golden and Willie27 of 62
28. Marcus D. Wiley and Willie Moore Jr28 of 62
29. Anthony Brown and Willie29 of 62
30. Real Talk Kim and Willie Moore Jr.30 of 62
31. Willie Moore Jr. and Anthony Brown31 of 62
32. Lyfe Jennings and Willie Moore Jr.32 of 62
33. Willie and Vashawn Mitchell33 of 62
34. Aaron Cole and Willie Moore Jr.34 of 62
35. Alex Faith, Tim Bowman Jr. and Willie Moore Jr.35 of 62
36. Tim Bowman Jr. and Willie Moore Jr,36 of 62
37. Virtue stops by the studio!37 of 62
38. Erica Campbell with Willie's sons38 of 62
39. Erica Campbell and Willie39 of 62
40. Erica Campbell and Willie40 of 62
41. Erica Campbell with Willie's sons41 of 62
42. Demetria McKinney stops by.42 of 62
43. Tamar Braxton and Willie43 of 62
44. Bizzle and Willie snap a photo!44 of 62
45. Jonathan McReynolds performs in studio!45 of 62
46. Egypt Sherrod with Willie Moore Jr.46 of 62
47. Egypt Sherrod47 of 62
48. Egypt Sherrod with Willie Moore Jr.48 of 62
49. Willie and Kandi!49 of 62
50. Gail Devers50 of 62
51. Kandi Burruss51 of 62
52. Another snap of Willie Moore Jr. with gospel star Tasha Cobbs52 of 62
53. Willie and Kandi!53 of 62
54. Willie Moore Jr. snaps a photo with his wife and son54 of 62
55. Kandi Burruss55 of 62
56. Willie with gospel singer Canton Jones56 of 62
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58. Willie Moore Jr. with his wife and sons Peyton and Princeton.58 of 62
59. Marvin Sapp in studio with Willie Moore Jr.59 of 62
60. Marvin Sapp and Willie Moore60 of 62
61. Willie Moore and Pastor Charles Jenkins61 of 62
62. Willie with Wess Morgan and Bishop Dale C. Bronner62 of 62