A meme floating around the internet recently struck a nerve with Black women. It read, “Black women be wanting to stop & cry so badly but there’s sh*t to do.” The meme was posted across Facebook timelines and Instagram feeds as if it were gospel until New York Times best-selling author Luvvie Ajayi decided to shut down the rhetoric. She posted an edited version of the meme to her Instagram account that read, “NOPE. Cry if you need to. Then get sh*t done. But cry first. It’s OK.” Ajayi isn’t the only one in the media space allowing Black women to simply live.
Since its premiere, Ava DuVernay’s hit OWN drama Queen Sugar has subverted the idea of the strong Black woman. The series boldly presents its main female characters Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), Nova (Rutina Wesley), Violet (Tina Lifford) and Darla (Bianca Lawson) as fully fleshed out whole women who sometimes falter and fail. They are as fearless as they are vulnerable. The show’s willingness to be truthful about the multifaceted aspects of Black womanhood and the importance of self-care are helping to untangle the damaging idea that Black women should bear all of the community’s burdens.
In the second season premiere of Queen Sugar, Nova attends a dear friend’s baby shower. Over the course of the celebration, the women in attendance discuss their hopes for marriage and motherhood. It was an unexpected moment — to witness all of these extremely successful women unpack a deep yearning for something society often tells Black women they can’t or won’t have. “I love that [Nova’s] pretty unusual, and I think she’s flawed and very human,” Wesley said EBONY’s July/August issue. “I love that I never know quite where she’s going.” Despite advising her friends on finding wholeness in themselves, this season we’ve watched Nova confront her own insecurities and shortcomings. These feelings about herself and the relationship that she had with her late father bubbled to the surface during an explosive family blow up in episode 207 “I Know My Soul.” Unable to deal with the fallout Nova does what she needs to in order to cope — she flees.
Like Nova, Lifford’s Aunt Violet — the matriarch of the Bordelon family —doesn’t exist solely as a fixture on the series to dole out advice. DuVernay, showrunner Monica Macer and executive producer Oprah Winfrey have written Aunt Vi as her own vibrant, sexual, human being with her own dreams and aspirations. Winfrey told Shadow and Act, “[Lifford] brings this spirit and energy to it that’s really just fantastic.” Though she’s over forty, Vi is allowed to stumble, to make mistakes and sometimes even wallow in bed. We often think that age means an erasure of fear, but Queen Sugar has shown us how false and damaging that thinking can be for Black women.
Lawson’s Darla — who was moved to series regular this year — is a recovering addict trying to rebuild a life with her son Blue and his father Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe). Her sobriety is not without its challenges. This season there is a moment at a restaurant where she takes out her frustration on her child. In a later episode, during a moment of self-doubt, she throws out Blue’s prized Barbie doll Kenya. Last week, we watched as she chose herself over Ralph Angel at the expense of their relationship. She’s not perfect, but she authentic and her willingness to press forward despite the odds may make Darla more like Charley than we (or Charley) could ever have imagined.
More than any other character this season, Charley has had to face herself in the mirror. Reeling from the spectacular implosion of her seemingly picture perfect marriage, Charley uproots herself and her teenage son Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe) from their sprawling Los Angeles estate to Lousiana to run her late father’s sugar cane farm. Though she constructs a new life as the first Black mill owner in the state, to hold on to the facade of who she is, Charley forgets to actually heal. “Charley’s strength is a little superheroic,” Gardner told us. “She really is one of the most resilient character I [believe] I’ve ever played. She’s in the process of redefining.”
In one of the most powerful scenes from the series in “I Know My Soul” Charley has a full blown breakdown during the grand opening of her mill. The pressure of the burgeoning business, her debilitating need for perfection and the stress of her impending divorce finally bring Charley to her knees. Though Nova, Micah and her friend Remy (Donadre Whitfield) try to assure her that it’s OK to stumble, Charley can’t seem to allow herself that luxury.
There is certainly a learning curve when it comes to taking care of yourself. Black women are courageous, independent and trailblazing but we are also human. We shouldn’t be expected to maintain steadfast and determined at the expense of our own mental and physical health. As the women of Queen Sugar move forward on this journey to heal and rebuild, we’ll be right alongside them.
The mid-season finale of the second season of Queen Sugar airs tonight at 10 p.m. on OWN.