Dee Rees has been tapped to write and direct a film adaptation of George Gershwin’s opera Porgy and Bess at MGM. Gershwin Estate recently granted the rights to MGM. Originally a novel by DuBose Heyward titled Porgy, it was also adapted into a play from Heyward and his wife, Dorothy.
“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,” Rees said in a statement to Deadline.
Here’s the official description of Porgy and Bess from Broadway: Set in the 1930s in an African-American Charleston neighborhood known as Catfish Row, Porgy and Bess centers on the tragic love story of the cripple beggar Porgy and beautiful Bess, who longs to turn away from her former life as a prostitute and cocaine addict. After a murder, Bess’ abusive partner Crown flees, leaving her at the mercy of a disapproving community and tempted by the seductive drug dealer Sporting Life. Bess strikes up an unlikely relationship with Porgy and gradually finds acceptance on Catfish Row—until a hurricane and the return of Crown change everyone’s lives forever.
Many songs from the opera went on to become classics, such as “Summertime.” A 1959 film adaptation of the film starred Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge, Brock Peters, Sammy Davis Jr., Pearl Bailey and Diahann Carroll. There have been many, many stage productions of the play and opera over the years.
This new adaptation seems perfect for Rees, who earned critical acclaim for another Black period story, Mudbound. She is coming off of The Last Thing He Wanted, which premiered at Sundance and debuts on Netflix this month. Rees’ statement continues, “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. 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.”
From Harlem to Hollywood, get the Black entertainment news you need in your inbox daily.