*During the first season of “Queen Sugar,” director Ava DuVernay crafted an extraordinary story that centered on the special bond that exits between a family that crosses all genders and ethnicities.
As OWN President Erik Logan stated during a recent L.A. press event, “the series is one of the most inclusive crews in front of and behind the camera,” and DuVernay and executive producer Oprah Winfrey confirm that Season 2 will deliver on that even more.
“Queen Sugar” returns with a two-night event on OWN Tuesday, June 20, and Wednesday, June 21 (10 p.m. ET/PT each night). The contemporary drama follows the Bordelon siblings’ struggle to move forward with their lives as they strive to honor the legacy of their father following his unexpected passing.
The series stars Rutina Wesley (Nova Bordelon), Dawn-Lyen Gardner (Charley Bordelon West) and Kofi Siriboe (Ralph Angel Bordelon) as the Bordelon siblings, and the expansive cast also includes Tina Lifford (“Parenthood”) as the siblings’ free-spirited Aunt Violet; Omar J. Dorsey (“Ray Donovan,” “Selma”) as Violet’s much younger boyfriend Hollywood Desonier; and Dondré T. Whitfield (“Mistresses”) as trusted Bordelon family friend Remy Newell.
During the “Queen Sugar” west coast press event at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills on June 6, Duvernay and Winfrey were joined by Gardner and Siriboe, and they touched on what they all learned last season that helped shape season two.
“Season one, we were fresh out of the womb so really trying to learn each other, the ways in which we like to work together. And then, exploring these characters, exploring the world, setting everything up,” DuVernay says.
“Season two feels like we have our footing. We’re a toddler. We’re walking around, you know what I mean, we’re touching things. We can express ourselves a little more freely, I feel. But it’s been a real pleasure to kind of be editing these episodes. And the confidence that’s coming across in the performances and how that’s grown from season one is really apparent. So yeah, that’s what I’m seeing.”
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Winfrey adds, “Don’t you feel like everybody sort of landed, you know, as I’m watching dailies every day and right now I think I’ve seen the first four episodes cut together it just feels like I go to bed thinking about you guys. I’m not so sure some days if I like Charley. And then me and my friends, my daughters who are from South Africa and going to school around we all watch, and we’re like we’re not sure how we feel about Charley.”
Continuing, “Why did she do that? But I’m always cooing in my heart over Ralph Angel. And this is how you know whether it’s a good book that you’ve read or a great movie or a series, when you wake up in the middle of the night, you go to pee, three thirteen, three thirty-three and you’re thinking about a hug that Ralph Angel gave to Blue. When that thing comes up and it resonates with you or you’re thinking about what’s going on with Vi and Hollywood and stuff. You know, the characters feel real to me.”
DuVernay confesses that she thinks “a lot about Charley and Nova because I feel like Charley– I’m half Charley and half Nova.”
Turning to Dawn-Lyen Gardner, who plays Charley, DuVernay says, “There’s an episode coming up in this season when you’re in a parking lot and you drop down and just kind of break down. The other day I felt like I wanted to do that. And I said, let me just go watch Dawn do it and keep myself together.”
Winfrey recalls one of the most poignant moments from last season was the episode about migrant workers.
“One of the things we did so beautifully .. one of the things I thought we got so right it just opened my heart space, did you see the episode where the migrant workers who were working on the farm and the two had been killed? And then what we did with all of those workers sitting around the table and them not knowing their names. And them just pulling out big wide shot ending in a prayer, that was one of the most poignant moments I’ve ever seen on television,” she explained.
“And said so much about the marginalization of brown people and black people and brown people and black people marginalizing each other. I just thought that was a pivotal moment for me for the series,” Winfrey adds.
In addition to being visually arresting, diverse and inclusive, another “Queen Sugar” essential is passing The Bechdel test, which asks whether a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man.
“Over 93% of movies and television shows in this country up through the beginning of 2017, 93% did not pass the test, to not have one scene where two women have a conversation about themselves or anything that they have in their mind that does not include interaction with a man,” DuVernay points out.
And that’s an issue the creative team tries to address.
“That’s something that we try to change. Every episode of “Queen Sugar” has one scene that passes Bechdel. And every film I’ve done so far has had a scene that’s passed Bechdel including some which was about a man.”
Season 1 boasts an all female directorial crew and every episode this season has also been helmed by a woman.
Oprah and Ava are proud that ALL of the women who directed episodes last season have gone on “to be heavily booked.”
“All of the women in our season one, every single one of the women has gone on to be heavily booked. I got a call from a really well-known television show just last week asking, “We had a drop out, we had someone drop out as a director, can you refer us to one of your season one directors?” I got on the phone and tried. None of the season one directors are available. Not one of them,” DuVernay explains.
“They’re completely booked. I called Victoria Mahoney. I was like this is a pretty good show. She’s like, “It sounds good. I’m booked until February 2018.” I was like word. This is great. They’re doing “American Crime.” “Underground” “Greenleaf”. Victoria Mahoney is directing a pilot right now. In the TV director world, the pilots are the biggest things you could do. If you direct the pilot– that’s why it’s so crucial that women get in but women when you direct the pilot, you decide the world.”
Continuing, “You’re casting, you’re saying, he’s going to wear this. You’re saying, the door of the house is going to look like this. You make all of the decisions. You’re the world creator. And when you direct the pilot, the thing I love about it is, you direct the pilot, if it’s season seven of that show and it’s re-airing in China ten years from now you get a check, even if you didn’t direct the pilot. That’s why it’s so crucial that women start to get into this space. You created the world,” she explains. So wherever that show goes, no matter if somebody directs it ten years from not and it’s playing in syndication in another country it’s a part of the world you created and you get a piece of it because you made it. So anyway, a number of those women are directing pilots. They’re doing great things.”
Stressing the importance of female creatives directing pilots, DuVernay adds, “So wherever that show goes, no matter if somebody directs it ten years from not and it’s playing in syndication in another country it’s a part of the world you created and you get a piece of it because you made it. So anyway, a number of those women are directing pilots. They’re doing great things.”
While explaining the formula behind picking her all-star team of female directors, Ms. DuVernay also confirmed that sexism in Hollywood continues to fuel the divide.
“I started out looking at women who had at least directed one film. So a great majority of our women from the first season have at least on film under their belt. Can you believe that these women had directed a film that had played at film festivals around the world, many of them had won festivals around the world that couldn’t get hired in Hollywood for one episode of television? Like on any network they would not be allowed in the door.”
DuVernay was the first black female director to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award. With “Selma,” she was also the first black female director to have her film nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, though she was not nominated for Best Director. In 2017, she was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature for her film “13th” (2016).
“One of my great gifts is that I am smart enough to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am. And so I trust her. I believe in her,” says Winfrey of DuVernay. “I believe in her vision. I believe in the vision we originally set for the series. So when she calls me up and says, “I’m going to hire Melissa. Or I’m going to hire Monica,” I go, okay. And usually I don’t even have a whole lot of questions. Right? I trust you.”
Ava DuVernay: Except when I ask why are you saying I’m smarter than you are because it’s obvious what’s going on.
Oprah Winfrey: Yeah but we…
Ava DuVernay: We work well.
And fans would certainly agree with that!
Don’t miss the “Queen Sugar” two-night event on OWN Tuesday, June 20, and Wednesday, June 21 (10 p.m. ET/PT each night). The series will regularly air Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT.