Everyone Should Watch Queen Sugar


I’m an unabashed fan of Queen Sugar, the family drama series produced by Ava DuVernay, about to premier its third season on the Oprah Winfrey Network. This is not a review, but I do want everyone to watch the show.

Queen Sugar is a Black family drama with interesting contextual twists. Charley Bordelon, played by the wonderful Dawn-Lyen Gardner, returns to her father’s Louisiana sugar cane farm after he dies and while she is still reeling from a terrible marital betrayal. Brother Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) is recovering his life with his son and girlfriend after a prison stay. Sister Nova (Rutina Wesley) is a fiery activist and journalist covering human rights issues. The siblings, who mostly grew up apart, take on operating the farm, per their father’s wishes. To succeed, they also have to deal with the racist and violent shenanigans of the local white landowning oligarchs who, of course, want their land.

The show does a really good job of setting the individual and family dynamics in their social context. The subject and place create opportunities to embed history of slavery and Jim Crow in the story of today. Nova’s activism makes politics and organizing a part of the family’s life, so that it doesn’t feel as much like an add-on as political interests often can. During season one, I was watching the show in a hotel room, pleasantly surprised that the TV had that channel. I was slightly distracted working on a talk for the next day when suddenly I heard Charley say to Nova, “I saw your article in Colorlines.” Oh, the thrill! No, we did not pay for product placement. Ava DuVernay just drops generosity like that.

I have mad respect and love for Ms. Ava. The woman is a creative powerhouse. I admire her storytelling brilliance of course, but she’s also a tremendous strategist and negotiator. She uses her platform for good in so many ways, and helps to build other such platforms too. A woman directs every episode of Queen Sugar. At a recent gala for the Ms. Foundation for Women, DuVernay (who is also very funny) told the crowd about a White man who told her that not hiring male directors could be seen as discrimination. Nice mansplaining! Her response was, “Sue me.”

I have one last connection to Queen Sugar, and that is through the novel’s author, Natalie Baszile, who did some of her writing on this long-term project at Hedgebrook. I’m on the board of this women’s writing residency that builds, nurtures and supports a community of women writers. At the farmhouse table where residents eat together every night, Baszile read from her novel to a group that included Leigh Haber, Oprah Winfrey’s book editor, who passed it on the folks at Harpo. That’s how shit gets done. Women sponsoring women.

I felt extra lucky to go to a party celebrating the show last night in New York City. It was a beautiful night in New York, and we were outdoors in a fancy French place. Me’shell Ndegeocello, who performs the show’s theme song, sang from her new album Ventriloquism; Ava and the cast spoke; Elaine Welteroth hosted. I met some favorite actors, gave Dawn-Lyen a hug for the invite, hung out with pals Dante Barry and Rashad Robinson, and got a few selfies. I can’t wait to watch Season 3, which starts in a two-night event May 29 and 30, on OWN.