In October, I sat down with award winning writer and director Ava DuVernay to interview her for EBONY’s Power issue. At the time, Queen Sugar was a month into its debut season, her documentary 13th had just premiered, and she was about to begin production on Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time. With so many projects in the works, and so many successes under her belt, I wondered if the Compton native ever got nervous or was afraid to fail.
The short answer was no.
Though she predicted that she’d inevitably experience a miss after so many hits—“It happens to every artist,” she said nonchalantly—DuVernay did admit to feeling a but uneasy right before releasing something new.
“I don’t feel pressure until [a project] is getting close to coming out,” she said back then. “I just focus on the joy of making it. I hope that lasts.”
And it appears to have worked. Queen Sugar, OWN’s wonderfully rich and complex family drama, just wrapped its first season and once again fans loved DuVernay’s work.
“I feel incredibly relieved,” she said from the set of A Wrinkle In Time. “In film we have one opening weekend, but this was week after week for 13 weeks. We had to see if people would show up and they did. The fact that we started to dominate the social conversation, and dominate the ratings on that night, especially with women–sisters in particular—was everything we hoped for that I was afraid to hope.”
When it came to Queen Sugar’s first season Black women showed up and showed out each week with hilarious tweets and gifs in tow. The season finale drew in 2.76 million total viewers, making it the Wednesday night’s number one cable telecast for women.
“The ratings have been really significant and stellar for a show of this type on a basic cable network that did not have a legacy of this kind of work,” DuVernay told EBONY. “So the fact that [viewers] came for it, and stayed for it, is something that I just really want to thank people for.”
According to a press release from OWN, “Queen Sugar is the number one cable series for African-American women and the number one new ad-supported cable series among women ages 25-54. And OWN is Wednesday night’s number one cable network among African-American women and total viewers.”
If that weren’t enough, Queen Sugar is the most talked about cable show on Twitter and Facebook on Wednesday nights, regularly trending for hours each week, thanks to a few hilarious re-tweets from its executive producers, DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey.
you know it Britni! Dranks and a storm! Dangerous combination. #QueenSugar
— Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) October 27, 2016
“My favorite thing to talk to [Oprah] about are the tweets,” DuVernay said. “She just enjoys them so much, and she’ll usually call me or text me the tweet that makes her laugh the most. She has really been enjoying Black Twitter.”
While clocking impressive ratings is validating for DuVernay’s self-described “little show,” it’s the effects on Hollywood that are even more satisfying for the director. This season, Queen Sugar relied exclusively on female directors to bring DuVernay’s vision to life, which is right in line with her mission to make the industry more inclusive.
“The ground we broke hiring and elevating women directors is what I’m most proud of because that is what really is shape-shifting the industry,” DuVernay said.
Since then, other shows have followed DuVernay’s example.
“I’m proud that we were the first ones to use seven different women to really do this. It’s changed something. And even though it’s our own little show on OWN that a lot of people aren’t writing about, it signals something,” the director said. “Jessica Jones is following us, Ryan Murphy is following us, and we hope more people follow us because this is the direction that we should be going in as an industry.”
Queen Sugar will start production on its second season in spring 2017 with all-new episodes scheduled to premiere on OWN in summer 2017.
Britni Danielle is the Entertainment/Culture Director of EBONY. Follow her on Twitter @BritniDWrites