Wednesday night 10 pm EST on Nov 15, 2017, thousands of viewers will be glued to their television sets as the season two finale of Queen Sugar airs. Have a box of Kleenex ready.
In this creative partnership between Oprah Winfey’s OWN and Warner Horizon Scripted Television, Queen Sugar is based on the novel by Natalie Baszile, Oprah gave the book to Selma’s producer Ava DuVernay (sadly ignored for the award) despite her honors in 2012 at Sundance as Best Director for “Middle of Nowhere.”
One of the most talked about dramas on social media, Queen Sugar chronicles the lives and loves of the diverse Bordelon siblings now gathered in rural Louisiana on their late father’s sugar plantation. These great actors include Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) who becomes the only black female sugarcane mill owner and must deal with her estranged siblings- the formerly incarcerated Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) who has to restore his relationship with his son’s mother; and Nova (Rutina Wesley) torn between her activism and desire for love. Executive producers are Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay, and Monica Macer.
- The series debut season won an NAACP Image Award for Best Drama Series, as well as Television Show of the Year from both ABFF and AAFCA and was a People’s Choice Awards nominee for Favorite Cable Drama.
Ms. DuVernay focuses on challenging the status quo and pushes against the inclusiveness on screen and behind the camera by insisting on female directors, producers, writers – giving many of the women their first major positions in this male-driven industry – as well as stories that include the black experience (which many do not understand.) Some of the handpicked female directing team – who mostly came from the independent film world and had to learn the faster pace of television versus film – include Garrett Bradley, Julie Dash, DeMane Davis, Cheryl Dunye, Aurora Guerrero, Amanda Marsalis, Maryam Keshavar, Liesl Tommy, Christina Voros and Kat Chandler – who will be the showrunner producer for Season Three.
Ms Chandler had directed several episodes in both Season One and Two had first met Ms. DuVernay when they both had films at Sundance. Because she had only directed a few films, she had been both astonished and pleased when Ms. DuVernay offered her a directing position for Queen Sugar as a television production since many companies would not consider her without prior TV experience. “Females in the industry are still not being respected for their knowledge or abilities and they are not often ignored. The opportunities are not as available as they are for the men. The fact that Ava has given so many chances to women creates a beautiful ripple effect since they go out and help other women achieve their dreams.”
Paul Garnes, who now serves as an executive producer for Queen Sugar, has won numerous awards and worked with Ava DuVernay for 16 years in various capacities for many different films including her award-winning Middle of Nowhere and Selma. A graduate of Columbia College (Chicago), he served -among his many posts – as Vice President of Operations and Production for Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx’s –Foxx/King Productions, Head of Productions for Simmons-Lathan Media Group. and Vice President and Executive in Charge of Production for The Tyler Perry Company. “It was the mechanics of the process – of what it took to pull the scene off with the lighting and blocking that most fascinated him.” Ava’s work centering on female protagonists attracted him to her stories and since there weren’t a lot of avenues for these films, he jumped in and they’ve been working together ever since.
Winner of the BAFTA award for “13” , Ava DuVernay was finally nominated for the Academy Award. She recently finished production on A Wrinkle In Time, which marked the first time an African American woman directed a feature with a budget over $100 million The film stars Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon and Mindy Kaling and will be released in March 2018.
In 2010 she founded ARRAY, which has been named one of the Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in Hollywood, is a film collective which distributes and amplified the work of people of color and women directors.
She is preparing now to helm a limited drama series “Central Park Five” for Netflix and Participant Media, Tribeca Productions, and Harpo Films. Many of her projects show her commitment to activism, social justice, and reform in the criminal justice system. Queen Sugar, itself, deals with various timely issues as police brutality, white-black relationships, black youth incarcerations, and feminine struggles in a male-dominated world.
Other cast include Tina Lifford, Omar J Dorsey, Dondre T. Whitfield, Timon Kyle Durrett, Nicholas L. Ashe, Ethan Hutchinson, Bianca Lawson, with guest star Henry G, Sanders.
While the book differs a bit from the series, viewers need to understand that in creating the television version, especially one that will last several seasons, latitude needs to be taken with the story so that multiple episodes can be developed for the various characters. Some parts of the book don’t necessarily translate into the visual scenes needed for filming and others need to be changed because of budgets. Ms. DuVernay insists on great photography and drawing out the emotional challenges of the characters – both of these draw the viewers deeper into the story.
If you need to catch up, Season One is available for streaming on Hulu. Season Two viewers can catch up on the Watch OWN App and WatchOWN.tv.
Season Three will air in the spring, so be ready for it!