Marian Rees Associates (Firm)
University of Iowa Sociology alumna Marian Rees (Bachelor of Arts 1951) created her production company, Marian Rees Associates (MRA) in 1981. During her first 29 years in the television entertainment industry Rees worked with legends such as Fred Astair and Frank Sinatra and with Producers Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin on groundbreaking programs such as All In the Family. Rees' response to realizing the limitations of working in a male-dominated industry holding few real opportunities for women and an awareness of declining in quality in television programming, was to create a company offering unlimited possibilities for women with a focus on quality content. Beyond offering work and creative possibility, MRA has also built a solid reputation in the industry by producing television programming that informs and entertains. In one interview, Rees states that she sees television as having the potential to "reform" the public's ideas on social issues. Rees saw herself as a "working sociologist" and as such, MRA brings to television different perspectives on contemporary and complex social issues. It is the goal of MRA to do so in such a way that the television viewing public is made aware of issues such as drunk driving, child abuse, adoption issues, and discrimination based on age, race and/or gender. The stories MRA produces are often true tales of challenges overcome by "real"people. Since creating MRA, Rees has served as Executive Producer for the company's many "hand-crafted" films, which have aired on the three major networks and cable networks including HBO (Home Box Office) and Lifetime. To date, eight of these productions have been for the Hallmark Hall of Fame. As of April 2002 MRA productions have won eleven Emmy awards and thirty-six Emmy nominations as well as two Golden Globe awards, six Christopher Awards, the Humanitas Prize, a Peabody Award, two Gabriel Awards, two Monte Carlo Television Awards and numerous other industry and public honors. There are several characteristics that go into making MRA productions notable; one of these is production values that are a hallmark of the company. Marian Rees is on record as referring to MRA films as "hand-crafted" - pointing to her direct involvement in MRA production processes and on an insistence on the highest quality at all levels of production; from the writing to the final editing. Another distinguishing feature of MRA is the range of topics on which the company has chosen to focus and the impact that MRA movies have on millions of viewers. Some examples of this include the productions of "Love Is Never Silent," "Miss Rose White," and "Resting Place." Airing in December of 1995, "Love Is Never Silent" won several Emmy awards and has the distinction of being one of the first programs on television to be close captioned for the hearing impaired. The story focuses on the personal and social challenges a family faces when deaf parents struggle to raise a daughter in a hearing world. In order to remain true to the spirit of the novel "In This Sign" by Joanne Greenberg, MRA staff and production crew learned American Sign Language (ASL). This provided insights to the challenges of deaf community members and also made possible communication with deaf cast and staff members. One of the more important aspects and aims of this production is to illustrate that there exists a culture of deafness that defines the world for the hearing impaired but that is unrecognized by the hearing world. Another winner of multiple Emmy awards, "Miss Rose White" deals with issues of anti-Semitism, immigration and the process of becoming "American" within the context of a family that has survived the holocaust through separation and loss. Adapted from the play "A Shayna Maidel" by Barbara Lebow, the story looks at how a young woman comes to terms with her Jewish heritage and history. Some of the issues the movie addresses include a father-daughter relationship that is often in conflict, the importance of extended family, personal sacrifice, survival and self-acceptance. "Resting Place" (April 27, 1986) is an adaptation of the short story written by Walter H. Davis. The story centers on a small community divided over the burial an African American soldier killed in Vietnam in the towns only cemetery; one for "whites only." The story takes an honest look at issues of racism, loss, and the ways in which prejudices negatively shape perceptions. An interesting side note is that MRA productions casting directors have displayed a talent for utilizing young rising actors before they become famous. Some of these actors include Denzel Washington, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lawrence Fishburne, Stephen Dorff and Bill Pullman.
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