Rees on Becoming the First Black American Woman Featured in the Criterion Collection

Jul 3, 2021 | Articles

Angelique Jackson | Variety

Filmmaker Dee Rees made history on June 29 when her debut feature “Pariah” joined the Criterion Collection, making the Oscar and Emmy nominee the first Black American woman to have her work included. Before Rees, Euzhan Palcy, who is from Martinique, was the lone Black woman to have a film (1989’s “A Dry White Season”) selected.

“It feels like a formal acknowledgment of the film’s impact to the canon and being a part of the culture,” Rees tells Variety of having her movie chosen. “Even though artists have to try to find your validation from inside, it’s nice to be seen.”

And as a Black filmmaker in particular, Rees adds, “it’s important to be included for future generations of filmmakers, if [Criterion] is the thing that’s being taught in schools.”

“When they’re absent, then the assumption is there’s none in existence,” she explains. “There’s no Black filmmakers here, so there must not be any worthy of being here. I don’t see any queer women here, so there must not be any. I think it matters.”

In fact, ahead of Rees’ selection, only eight Black filmmakers’ work had been featured in the collection. Four Black American directors were represented — Charles Burnett (1990’s “To Sleep With Anger”), Spike Lee (1989’s “Do the Right Thing” and 2000’s “Bamboozled”), William Greaves (1968’s “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One” and 2005’s “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm Take 2 1/2”) and Oscar Micheaux (1925’s “Body and Soul”) — with four Black directors from outside the U.S. also selected — including Palcy, Steve McQueen (Britain, 2008’s “Hunger”), Djibril Diop Mambéty (Senegal, 1973’s “Touki Bouki”) and Ousmane Sembène (Senegal, 1966’s “Black Girl”).

Tags: Dee Rees