Dee Rees Resets ‘Porgy and Bess’ for Big Screen

By N. Jamiyla Chisholm Feb 13, 2020

The hugely popular and at-times controversial opera "Porgy and Bess," which debuted in New York City in 1935 and is currently being staged at The Metropolitan Opera, will soon be remade for the big screen. This time, Dee Rees (“Mudbound”) is in charge of writing and directing the film adaptation for MGM, Deadline reported on February 11.

Originally composed by George Gershwin and based on DuBose Heyward’s novel "Porgy," the Charleston, South Carolina-set opera tells the story of the disabled Porgy’s attempts to rescue Bess from the violent men in her life. The two-time Tony Award-winning production has been revived many times over the decades, and it was adapted into a feature film led by a cast of luminaries that included Sidney Poitier (Porgy) and Dorothy Dandridge (Bess), Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll.

For Rees, who became the first Black woman nominated for an adapted screenplay Oscar for "Mudbound" in 2018, creating this story through a new lens is paramount. "With the help of a terrific artistic team, my vision is to invest this community with a new agency and re-locate the characters from a fictional landscape mostly viewed from the outside to a real geography with actual historical and cultural roots, relevance and consequence and that has been built and lived from the inside," Rees told Deadline

To help with the history and culture, Rees said that she aims to bring in the voices of new musical artists who can express "both the joys and the frustrations of the ongoing struggle of African American citizens in this country," just as Nina Simone and Billie Holiday did with songs from the original score.

Rees continued, "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."