Screenwriter and director Dee Rees doesn’t have your typical Hollywood success story: After quitting her stable corporate gig as a brand manager to attend film school, she struggled to find financing for her first project, 2011’s Pariah, a loosely autobiographical movie about a young Black woman coming out. Then, finding distribution was an issue. That changed in 2017, when her second film, Mudbound, became a breakout hit for Netflix.
“One of the goals of my stories is getting people to see beyond their limited point of view and realize that every character can be relatable,” says Rees. “Pariah isn’t just about a Black lesbian; it’s a coming-of-age story. Bessie Smith [the focus of her 2015 TV movie, Bessie] wasn’t just an artist but an icon we’re still talking about 100 years later. Mudbound isn’t just a Jim Crow lesson; it’s a story about family and inheritance.”
The director — who received four Oscar nominations for Mudbound — believes projects like hers are a small part of a bigger Hollywood movement that’s here to stay.
“I think the cream is finally rising — Black Panther is incredible, Atlanta is excellent,” she says. “There comes a certain point where people’s own biases and narrowness become overtaken by the sheer creativity and greatness they’re witnessing. Now, it’s not just, Oh, maybe creators of color do have interesting points of view that can perform well! It’s undeniable that our voices matter.”
Black Is The New Black is Refinery29’s celebration of 20 Black women who kicked down doors in their fields this past year. Black women who are reminding the world that we are not a trend or “a moment.” We’re here — and we’ve been here. Check out the full list.