Director Dee Rees is once again switching genres as she moves from the dramatic political thriller The Last Thing He Wanted to a new adaptation of the George Gershwin opera Porgy and Bess for MGM.
Deadline was the first to report Rees would be heading over to MGM to tackle Porgy and Bess. Irwin Winkler (Goodfellas, Creed) and Charlie Winkler (Creed, Rocky Balboa) will executive produce. Both Rees and the Winklers worked together to help MGM 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. Since then, Porgy and Bess has been a popular modern opera with one of its many songs, “Summertime,” even going on to become a jazz standard sung by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone. The opera was the adapted into a movie musical directed by Otto Preminger for Columbia Pictures starring Sidney Poitier as Porgy and Dorothy Dandridge as Bess. Porgy and Bess is a story set in a small coastal South Carolina town in the 1910s. The story 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. When Bess’ old life catches up with her, her relationship with Porgy is put to the test.
This will be an exciting and major challenge for Rees, who will not only carry the weight of Porgy and Bess’ storied production history but will be bringing to a new generation one of the only operas to feature an all-black cast depicting black life. Thanks to her films Pariah and Mudbound, we know this is a particular strength and passion of Rees’, so it will be very interesting to see where she takes it. No official casting announcements or other production details have been released at this time. This will be a high-profile project that will no doubt attract some of the biggest names in Broadway and film. Expect the casting announcements on this one to be particularly thrilling when they do arrive.
Rees shared a statement about her new gig as the director of Porgy and Bess, commenting, “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,” and later, shared her vision and intentions for this new adaptation:
“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.”
Until we more details can be shared on Porgy and Bess, check out what we do know about Rees’ next film, The Last Thing He Wanted.