By now you’ve likely seen at least the first episode of Queen Sugar, the new TV series on OWN developed and produced by the powerhouse combo comprised of writer/directer Ava DuVernay of Selma fame, and Oprah Winfrey, of no longer needs a surname fame. The first episode of Queen Sugar, properly titled “First Things First”, arrived with loads of media coverage considering the big names attached. But does it live up to the hype?
Yes and Yes!
Queen Sugar is the type of show that doesn’t come around very often, especially for us. While I have no doubts that the superb acting, quality writing and stunning visual and auditory experience will appeal to a rainbow of races and ethnicities, make no mistake about it, Queen Sugar is FUBU all the way. As in “For Us By Us”, which will forever be the acronym definition, no matter what Daymond John said to TMZ. The pride I feel watching the Bordelon siblings is one I won’t dwell on too long, but it gave me the same feeling I had as a child waiting to see what new dance the Huxtables had created for the season.
Ava DuVernay, mostly known for directing on the big screen, came to play and slay, creating a world that looks nothing like a soundstage. From Charley’s California home to the Louisiana field, Queen Sugar versus other TV shows is like Playstation 4 versus Atari’s flat one dimensional games of the 80’s.
While none of the characters burst into song, Ava Duvernay has interwoven music so strongly throughout the background that you almost feel like you’re watching a musical. For every up, down and sideways twist there is an accompanying song playing in the background. This helps add to the visual appeal of Queen Sugar. It doesn’t need heavy dialogue because the music serves as a kind of voiceover, allowing the actors to do their thing silently on screen.
Speaking of the actors, Queen Sugar includes faces you’ll recognize as well as a few newcomers. However, what they all have in common is a quality that Diderot and Stanislavski would write paragraphs about, but a former acting instructor of mine simply called “ticking”. As an actor when you light a cigarette you remove the pack from your pocket, take a cigarette from the pack, find your lighter, pop the cigarette in your mouth, hold the lighter to the cigarette, flick the lighter, breath in, let the lighter go and you’re done. Mini-actions that may look like a continuous motion but in actuality was broken down into steps, so by the end the audience knows a lot more than just surface information. They know whether you love it or if you’re trying to quit. They know what the lighter means to you. They know if it was purchased for a dollar at a gas station or if it holds sentimental value. They know if you’re smoking because you’re nervous, celebrating or just an addict. Each actor in Queen Sugar demonstrates this keen sense of drama and timing where the eyes, a slight smile, even what isn’t said speaks volumes. So who are these talented individuals?
The most recognizable face is veteran Rutina Wesley who plays Nova Bordelon. Rutina first came to our attention stomping the shit out of a car during the dance battle movie craze in ‘How She Move’ and most recently starred in all six seasons of HBO’s ‘TrueBlood’. In Queen Sugar she brings some of the same secretive, strong yet vulnerable quality that is a hallmark of her acting. Her IMDB page even says she has “the best chin quiver in the business”. The other Queen Sugar siblings are Dawn-Lyen Gardner as Charley Bordelon, and Kofi Soriboe as their brother RalphAngel Bordelon.
There is love and at the very least a sense of responsibility towards one another, but they’re all keeping secrets. Just like the lyrics to “Nova” the Queen Sugar theme song, they “keep the colors in the lines”, no one here wants to be exposed, even to family. As different as they are, what they have in common is that each of their lives are balanced on a tightrope. One little push can send them toppling over and however brave a face they put on for the world, inside they know this. Nova’s livelihood depends on a fledgling writing career and a thriving marijuana business. Her personal life is even more complicated since she’s in a relationship with a man who is both a cop and married. RalphAngel is a single father to a precocious 6-year old son Blu, has a baby mother who is an addict and he also appears to commit random armed robberies to make ends meet. Then we have Charley the youngest, half-sister, and inarguably more successful with an MBA degree, huge home and holiday card perfect family. A success Charley doesn’t quite trust as she debates with her husband the need to make sure her son isn’t spoiled and can survive in the “real” world. She was right to be wary, as Charley is the first of the Borderlon siblings to lose footing on the tightrope, discovering her NBA star husband’s involvement in a gang rape sex scandal that threatens his career and their marriage.
Queen Sugar is full of change, family, sex, growth, lies, pride, sibling rivalry and more. You think you see where you’re going and then the plot does a loopty-loop. When Charley has her Scarlett O’Hara moment at the end of the first episode and clutches the dirt from the field in her fist, promising her late father, “I’ll fix it daddy”, I knew I would be front and center with her, watching every single episode as she does just that. You should be too!
The Black TV & Film Collective a 501c3 organization that operates as a NYC film collective. In our work, we support all artists of color including but not limited to black filmmakers. We are a collaborative platform that represents diversity in film and supports inclusion in Hollywood and TV. Our professional network of New York City filmmakers gives knowledge to those who want to learn how to produce film, how to make a web series, how to budget film projects and more. We host NYC film workshops that welcome a variety of experience levels from first time filmmakers who are either students in film school or to notables within the television and film industry. See how you can make a difference in the world of cinema by becoming a member of our NYC film collective.
Edith Estelle is a global nomad writing from all over the world. She is a storyteller, penning novels and screenplays, and sharing her opinion through a collection of journalistic, editorial offerings including rants, musings and sometimes, humorous take on events and topics from entertainment to politics (and sometimes the entertainment of politics). Edith is also a member of the Black TV & Film Collective.