In This Issue
Trailblazer. Leader. Icon.
These are the words that much of Queen Sugar's cast and crew have used to described Ava DuVernay. Through her vision and creative execution, she managed to develop a collective of the most diverse talent in the entertainment industry to put forth one of the most riveting television series of this generation for the past seven seasons.
Queen Sugar has not only tackled the complexities facing Black America throughout its tenure; the expanse of its storytelling has highlighted our varied realities. With narratives that hit close to home and a troupe of characters that mirrored those in our own communities, the show inspires us reflect our shared Black past and the work necessary to ensure its future. But who knew that a subliminal but intentional prompting from Oprah would manifest into the poignant depiction of Black life that the show would become?
Wrapping up the show on her own terms—a sadly uncommon feat for a Black female director in Hollywood—on the heels of the Ava DuVernay spoke with EBONY to reflect on the beautiful completion of the tour de force that is Queen Sugar.
EBONY: So many on Queen Sugar’s cast and crew have grown and been granted multiple opportunities throughout the 7 years of shooting this series. The show has amassed a stellar roster of notable alum as well. How does it feel to know that this show has been able to be a significant stepping stone for folks? What was the intentionality behind this?
Ava DuVernay: With Queen Sugar, my formula was simple. Let’s not just talk about it; let’s be about it. So we decided to stop following the industry. We decided to lead, and do what we knew was right and possible. Although many told us it was wrong and impossible, we would only hire women to direct—we would over-index with hiring new women directors with the series being their first episode of TV. And by doing so, we planned to develop a whole new generation of women behind the camera in television. We achieved that. These women have gone on to direct everything from Insecure and Lovecraft Country to Westworld and Ozark, and everything in between across all networks, studios and streamers. Women who weren’t seen and valued before are now working everywhere. And now, it isn’t an anomaly to hire women directors in general. It’s normalized. It’s expected.
Can you speak to adapting the Natalie Baszile's book Queen Sugar and the process of channeling your vision for the series?
Natalie Baszile’s beautiful book has a lovely idea at its core that was ripe for expansion into a television series. Both forms of the story proudly amplify the incredible lives and loves within the Black farming community.
Queen Sugar completely adapted to and mirrored the social and political climate experienced in real-time. Why was this important to do when it could have been avoided like many other shows chose to do?
In creating Queen Sugar, my intention was to represent the magnificence of the Black family on American television in the ways that I had seen so many family dramas featuring white families do over the decades. We have had great Black family comedies, but a lot less Black family dramas. So this was my big goal. Within that, we understand that the lives of Black people are radical acts of love and strength and survival in and of themselves. So we tackled the political, social and cultural politics of our lives head on. We incorporated our history as well as current events into the characters’ lives and storylines over our seven-season run. I hope that this work serves as a time capsule to what we all experienced together as a Black community during this time. We can always look back and remember the issues, the ideas, the energy of this time. That’s my dream for the project.
A concept that has always been clear within Queen Sugar has been the essence of legacy— respective family legacies, Black folks building and maintaining legacies and the stripping of legacies throughout history. When Queen Sugar is remembered in the Black television zeitgeist for years to come, what do you hope its legacy will be rooted in?
I hope it serves as a time capsule for Black people at this time. We touched on everything—Black athletes, Black farmers, incarcerated people, interracial relationships, foster care and adoption, addiction, COVID-19, police brutality, protest and more. I remember watching The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie and they were shows that ran for a long time and served as a time capsule for a certain moment in time. I cannot identify something that's long running, centers Black people and addresses issues of the time where we can always go back and see what was happening and how we were doing. I hope Queen Sugar in terms of legacy just reminds us of where we were.