In her brief directorial career, Dee Rees has shown an ability to switch between genres with ease. Her first film Pariah was a tender indie drama, before her Oscar-nominated follow-up for Netflix, Mudbound, was a poverty-based race epic. And her latest film – The Last Thing He Wanted, also for Netflix – is a political thriller based on the Joan Didion novel of the same name.
So it’s no surprise to hear that not only does Rees already have her next project in the works, she’s shifting genres once more. Rees has been hired by MGM for an adaptation of George Gershwin‘s opera, Porgy And Bess. Irwin and Charlie Winkler will executive produce, and the duo alongside Reese reportedly worked very hard to secure the rights from the Gershwin estate.
Adapted from the 1925 DuBose Heyward novel Porgy and later, Heyward’s play of the same name, Gershwin’s now-iconic opera made its debut in 1935. It has since become a popular modern opera with one of its many songs, “Summertime”, even becoming a jazz standard sung by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone.
The story is set in a small coastal South Carolina town in the 1910s and follows Bess, a young woman trying to break free from her lover Crown, a criminal wanted for murder, and repair her reputation. She is taken in by Porgy, who doesn’t see Bess as a broken woman and the two eventually fall in love. But when Bess’ old life catches up with her, her relationship with Porgy is put to the test.
The opera was originally adapted into a movie musical directed by Otto Preminger for Columbia Pictures starring Sidney Poitier and Dorothy Dandridge. Expect Rees to have free reign to make her own changes and updates if she wishes.
This is great news. Porgy And Bess is one of the only all-black operas that depicts black life, and it’s exciting to ponder what Rees will do with the story. She revealed some of her ideas during a statement:
“Porgy And Bess is at its core, a love story. So I’m very excited to take on the challenge of this highly venerated, iconic material and lift the architecture of this unlikely love story and re-site it at a place and moment of resistance.
By accessing the spirit of the lyrics as they’ve been conjured, reinterpreted, and rearranged by greats like Nina Simone and Billie Holiday, I’m most excited about inviting today’s brightest musical talents to lend new voice and spirit to both the joys and the frustrations of the ongoing struggle of African American citizens in this country.
In this new adaptation, I’m hoping to raise the stakes for our hero and heroine, giving them full expression of existence placing emphasis not just on the circumstantial but on their rich inner lives and emotional pasts”.
This should be a very big film with major talents circling it and likely an awards-friendly release date. No other production details have been released at this time, but expect casting to move particularly fast.
This is another step to Rees becoming entrenched as one of our most celebrated auteurs. The Last Thing He Wanted, which stars Anne Hathaway, Ben Affleck and Willem Dafoe, hits Netflix on Friday, February 21.