TORONTO – “Mudbound” director and co-writer Dee Rees never imagined her exploration of white supremacy during the Second World War would end up echoing modern-day headlines.
The powerful ensemble drama, which is screening at the Toronto International Film Festival and hits Netflix Nov. 17, shows the interlaced lives of two families — one black, one white — sharing farmland in the Mississippi Delta.
Husband and wife Henry and Laura McAllan (Jason Clarke and Carey Mulligan) are newcomers to the ramshackle property, sharing their cramped, crumbling home with Henry’s racist father, Pappy (Jonathan Banks) who has ties to the Ku Klux Klan. The McAllans meet sharecroppers Hap and Florence Jackson (Rob Morgan and Mary J. Blige) who have worked the land for generations, trying to rise above the social and racial barriers that seek to oppress them.
Each family has sons who are returning home after the war: Jamie McAllan (Garrett Hedlund) and Ronsel Jackson (Jason Mitchell). They form an unlikely friendship based on their shared experience and the horrors of conflict, but face starkly different realities.
“Mudbound” debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it was acquired by Netflix.
In the wake of last month’s white supremacist rally and deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va., Rees said the film will now likely be seen by many viewers through a new perspective.
“We were at Sundance, and we were at the breakfast bar and we heard these guys talking. And they said: ‘”Mudbound” was good, but I thought the Klan scene was over the top,'” Rees recalled during an interview in Toronto.
“Those two guys probably won’t think the Klan scene is over the top now that we’ve literally seen guys marching in the streets with brass knuckles and pepper spray and shields.
“I think it might change how people receive it, but it doesn’t change the spirit in which the film was made. It doesn’t change the reality of the place in which we live.”
Violence broke out in Charlottesville after a loosely connected mix of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other far-right extremists assembled to protest the city’s decision to remove a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Heather Heyer was killed when a man plowed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters.
The clash came on the heels of a white nationalist rally the night prior on the University of Virginia campus, where torch-wielding demonstrators spouted racial slurs as they marched.
“These things aren’t new. Even police brutality is not new, it’s just now in the age of cellphone recordings it’s being captured,” said Rees.
“Of all the names we know, there’s probably 100 other names we don’t know and we’ll never know…. I think people who are in denial about who we are as a country now have to be shaken out of that denial.”
TIFF concludes on Sunday.
– With files from The Associated Press.
— Follow @lauren_larose on Twitter.