Dee Rees has been honing her craft for years, but the world has taken notice of her most recent work, Mudbound. The incredible film she wrote and directed is nominated in several categories at the upcoming Academy Awards including Best Adapted Screenplay (the first Black women to be nominated in the category) although she was left out of the race for Best Director.
Now, she has teamed up with Walmart to help other female content creators get a leg up in the industry. The retailer has partnered with Women In Film, an initiative to foster gender parity in Hollywood for women directors. Together, they support Catalyze: the Women In Film Production Program, a production program that supports four emerging female film teams with funding to create, produce and distribute short films.
“Women are powerful storytellers and Women In Film has long been on the forefront of advocating for, and advancing the careers of women directors, so we are excited to partner with Walmart this year,” said Kirsten Schaffer, executive director of Women In Film. “Through this project, and Walmart’s donation in support of the Women In Film Production Program, we will give the next generation of female filmmakers the opportunity to tell their stories.”
Women leading women
The Box is Rees’ short film for the program. It’s a sci-fi, action packed story featuring a space captain, sand monster and an evil commander. It stars fellow Oscar nominee and Mudbound collaborator, Mary J. Blige, and two-time Olympic Gold Medal Boxer and WBC / IBF Super Middle Weight Champ Claressa Shields. The production is led by women, including Mudbound’s Oscar-nominated cinematographer, Rachel Morrison as Director of Photography, costume design by Colleen Atwood (Chicago, Memoirs of a Geisha), and production design by Hannah Beachler (Moonlight, Black Panther).
“It was a great chance to do an original short film where this box arrives and you can do whatever you want with it,” said Rees in an exclusive interview with TheGrio. “I was excited to bring in my favorite collaborators like Mary J. Blige and I knew the program would ultimately benefit women filmmakers. Walmart is going to help them fund their short film so that was a huge reason I got involved,” said Rees.
Getting your start
Rees knows what it’s like to be a filmmaker who needs to get her foot in the door and now she’s helping other women get the resources they need to follow in her footsteps.
“Sundance was an institution that opened the door for me. As someone who didn’t know anyone in the business and didn’t have access, it was my liaison or my connector to access resources,” said Rees.”I like to do that daily with the people I hire. I always want to give women a shot and have women on set and put the craft in their hands. On the larger level being able to give advice and provide mentorship is important. It’s about giving hungry people a chance and try to make the work itself be something that brings people in.”
Rees is part of the recent trend of Black women who are making big strides in Hollywood and according to her, the mainstream can’t help but pay attention to all this talent.
“I would say that the quality of the work itself has been the thing that tipped the scale, but I would also say that when someone’s work is undeniable and the craft is strong, it transcends the identity of the maker. The more executives make decisions based on talent and quality, the more we will see a natural selection of the best material rising and those creatives rising,” she said.
“I think we may have finally gotten out of that ‘one at a time’ mentality so now there’s ten [of us] at a time. When there’s ten at a time, you can’t muffle it and you can’t dismiss it as an outlier, and you can’t say it’s an exception. The industry has to accept that these are excellent creators. It’s not just a one-off and I think that empowers people to get access to actors and resources and money so they can keep creating and stay prolific.”
Check out a sneak peek of Dee Rees’ short film, The Box, below.
Learn more at www.walmart.com/thebox and follow the conversation with #TheWalmartBox.