Mudbound is a $12 million, 135-minute saga of a dirt-poor white family and a dirt-poor black family in the Mississippi Delta before, during and after World War Two. Following its first screening at Sundance last January, Variety reported it had collected Oscar “buzz”. But as Sundance progressed, the expected bidding war for the film didn’t eventuate.
Some suggested buyers were scared off by a similar Sundance “buzz” at the 2016 festival for The Birth of the Nation. Purchased by Fox Searchlight for $17.5 million, it bombed at the box office and a year after its release, the film has only managed a $15.8 million domestic gross.
It wasn’t until the last day of this year’s Sundance Festival that Netflix finally stumped up $12.5 million for the rights to Mudbound. Despite the hesitancy, Netflix clearly thought they might have an Oscar contender on their hands.
They put the film on ice for the next 8 months before a Toronto Film Festival showing in September and two simultaneous 17th November releases on Netflix’s streaming platform and limited screenings in 17 cinemas to qualify for Oscar consideration.
The credits include “Netflix Presents A Netflix Original Film” which is odd as the streaming platform didn’t invest in its production, but picked it up after its Sundance world premiere.
Mudbound is heartfelt William Faulkner material, elucidating the post-slavery exploitation of “nigger” sharecroppers over-lorded by struggling bottom feeder white farmers. It’s a triumph for director and co-writer Dee Rees (Pariah, 2011; Bessie, 2015) with excellent performances from the entire cast and impressive across-the-board contributions from the production crew. Despite the film’s low budget, the World War Two footage is striking, and there’s a very powerful relationship between an African-American tank driver (Jason Mitchell) and an air force bomber pilot (Garrett Hedlund), both returning home with post traumatic stress and forming an inter-racial friendship, against all odds.