Jason Mitchell is immensely proud of Mudbound. Not just because it is a sweeping, ambitious epic that provides a detailed snapshot of a period seldom seen on screen. But because it genuinely confronts issues that have blighted America from its conception.
“It is an American story,” Mitchell declares to me over the phone. “American history is very taboo. If you weren’t there to feel it, it is different. A lot of people have their way of feeling about the slaves being freed, about Harriet Tubbman, Nat Turner, and the British, about all these different things that helped to create America. But they all have an undertone that people never really want to talk about. And that’s the race issue.”
“’Mudbound’ puts that right on the surface. It pulls no punches, but leaves you with a breath of fresh air. You don’t leave the film wanting to kill somebody. It ends with love. Creating this static between people makes this magnetic energy, and then you want to start this dialogue, this stuff that people sweep under the rug.”
But “Mudbound” wasn’t an easy shoot. Something that Jason Mitchell’s co-star Garrett Hedlund makes perfectly clear. “It was 28 days the shoot. It surprises people that it was shot in that time. Plus we lost some of those due to weather. We were dealing with tornadoes, lightning storms, and the rain. But the environment and the elements really played into it.”
For Hedlund, there was one big reason why “Mudbound” didn’t descend into chaos: director Dee Rees. “She managed to make those days up because of the pace that she works and the knowledge that she has. She is immediately able to get what she wants and move on.”
Hedlund had been wanting to work with Rees, who he insists not only had “a wonderful understanding of this story” but “is going to be one of the greatest auteurs of our time,” after watching her debut film “Pariah.” Then as soon as he read “Mudbound’s” script he responded to just how “beautiful, painfully honest and sad and poetic” it was.
The character of Jamie instantly resonated, too, as Hedlund grew up on a farm in northern Minnesota, where he repeatedly listened to war stories from his grandfathers and father. “It was those wonderful stories that intertwined with the character.”
Mitchell was hand-picked by Rees for the role of Ronsel Jackson, who returns from World War II to his family that work on the McAllan family’s farm. It didn’t take long for Mitchell to agree to join the film. In fact, he was relieved to be “doing something that matters, doing a movie that really makes people talk about things, and is a piece of history.”
“I am such a visual learner … History was one of the first class I ever fell asleep in. For me to be able to create this visual textbook on a time that is hardly ever talked about, but could be used in a classroom, it feels really good. It is something that speaks to my family, to black men, and it is something that is really cool and something that could be used to document this world 100 years from now.”
Both Mitchell and Hedlund agree that “Mudbound” doesn’t just have the potential to educate, but to inspire, too.
“So many times with films on this subject the consensus has been made and they demonize white people, victimize black people, and it makes it such a thing that we are not co-existing. But we are all in this together,” explained Mitchell, before Hedlund concluded, “[‘Mudbound’] is the portrait of a period. Of families that are brought to odds in this time of brutal social hierarchy, but are brought together by a land in the Mississippi Delta.”
“It is something that will hopefully allow people to build a bridge between race and not a wall.”
“Mudbound” is released on Netflix on November 17.