Friday, October 13, 2017

NYFF Spotlight: Mudbound

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 55th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 28th-October 15th.

Directed by Dee Rees
NYFF Screenings

Race in America is and has always been a hot topic. The emancipation of the slaves in 1863 left two distinctly separate populations, and it took an entire century for desegregation and voting rights to be put into place. There are still many incidents of rampant racism that happen on a regular basis in the United States. That unfortunate reality makes a story about a time of extreme inequality that somehow seemed normal all the more relevant and important, and that’s just what director Dee Rees brings to the forefront in her adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s 2008 novel.

Mulligan stars in the film

Laura (Carey Mulligan) meets Henry McAllan (Jason Clarke) and the two begin a life together in the 1940s. Laura enjoys domestic life, but when Henry suddenly uproots them to move with his father (Jonathan Banks) to a rural Mississippi farm, Laura must adjust to a far more isolating situation. Hap (Rob Morgan) and Florence (Mary J. Blige) raise their family on the outskirts of Henry’s property, working in the fields and on the farm for the McAllans. When World War II ends, Henry’s brother Jamie (Garrett Hedlund) and Hap’s son Ronsel (Jason Mitchell) both return, bringing with them a shared experience that transcends the color of their skin, building a friendship that stands in stark contrast to their far less accepting family and neighbors.

Rees, Blige, Hedlund, Mitchell, Mulligan, Clarke, and Morgan discuss the film

At a press conference for the film, Rees explains that she wanted this to be “an old-fashioned film like they don’t make anymore,” where the audience can get invested in each character and the plot can be secondary. During filming, they worked in actual sharecroppers’ cabins, and the camera style was key to each of the characters and how they were photographed based on their relationships. Morgan describes the opportunity to be a part of this telling of history since, as he says, “we often see black people as slaves or during the civil rights era – we don’t really see the sharecropping era when they’re not quite free.” Rees speaks specifically of incorporating the n-word into the language, in a way that sounded normal and unremarkable in everyday conversation, as the white actors hated saying it and the black actors hated hearing it. Rees, who emphasizes having many women behind the camera, believes that “we can’t begin to tackle our past until we look at our personal histories. We’re not separate from our past; we are all actors in what we’re creating.”

Hedlund and Mitchell star in the film

This film is a testament to that notion, telling a story of intersecting personalities who are very much products of the time and space in which they live. The cast is strong, with Mitchell as the standout for his portrayal of a soldier who saw his skin color ignored and even loved in Europe only to return home to find it just as horrifically backward as he left it. Each actor is afforded the opportunity to shine and truly get to know their characters, who do, as Rees suggests, steer the story, which is engaging and uncomfortable, and at times extremely disturbing due to its showcase of the horrific violence exacted by white people and uncondemned by the general public. Rees has crafted a film that feels important and which shines a light on a not-too-distant collective memory that has largely been repressed.


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