If you missed the powerful premiere of Queen Sugar, it’s not too late to get into the groove. As a part of the drama’s two-night debut, OWN is re-airing the pilot today in advance of the second episode. After this week, the show will air Wednesday nights.
Such programming details are crucial because Queen Sugar, which comes from creators Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay, is truly worth the investment. Cinematic, compelling and wonderfully cast, the series follows siblings Nova (Rutina Wesley, True Blood), Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) and Ralph Angel Bordelon (Kofi Siriboe) and their valiant attempts to handle a major loss in their lives. Here are six reasons you need to watch:
The feminine fierceness: It’s impressive enough that Winfrey and DuVernay (Selma) are executive producing Queen Sugar, which is based on a novel of the same name by Natalie Baszile. But knowing that each female-centric episode is directed by a woman – this includes DuVernay – and Meshelle Ndegeocello scored the music, you can’t help but feel all tingly and empowered. This is a drama about Black women by Black women.
The visuals: When outsiders think of Louisiana, they mostly picture New Orleans and the city’s Mardi Gras culture. But there is so much more to this very picturesque and green state and Queen Sugar captures that in sweeping detail from the seemingly unending sugarcane fields to the dense and opaque clouds that constantly threaten rain. You can practically feel the shroud of heat and humidity surrounding each character giving the drama an undeniable sense of place.
The acting: Speaking of characters, fans of True Blood will be blown away by Wesley’s range as Nova, a luxury she was rarely afforded on the HBO vampire drama. Strong, fearless and flawed, Nova loves hard and doesn’t suffer fools. She’s a journalist, a healer, a community activist, and a weed dealer. Nova does it all but can she forgive herself and others for inevitable shortcomings? Charley, meanwhile, has a lot to forgive too. She’s the striver who gave up her career as an MBA to take care of her NBA superstar husband and their son. But when Davis (Timon Kyle Durrett) doesn’t turn out to be the man she thought she married, Charley reaches a crossroad. Gardner, a relative newcomer whose credits include small roles on Castle and Heroes, truly captivates as Charley, a woman with more money than compassion. Last but not least there’s Siriboe as Ralph Angel. Eclipsed by Wesley and Gardner’s star making performances, Siriboe eventually comes into his own as an ex-con trying to redeem himself in several gut-wrenching scenes in episode two and three. Viewers should also expect head-turning performances from Tina Lifford (Scandal) as Aunt Violet (a role originally written for Winfrey), Ethan Hutchison as Ralph Angel’s incredibly wise son Blue and Bianca Lawson (Save the Last Dance) as Darla, Ralph Angel’s ex and Blue’s mom.
The culture: Louisiana is incredibly diverse and Queen Sugar does a commendable job incorporating a variety of Black, White, Latino and Asian people including proud Black farmers, entitled White landowners and stoic Vietnamese-American fishermen and women all of whom call the Bayou state home. Food and music also help give a sense of culture. For a list of individual artists and song titles visit www.queensugarown.tv/music.
The literary elements: It’s easy to see that Queen Sugar is based on a book given its literary tone. Charley is a prodigal daughter and Aunt Violet is the matriarch. The number three plays a big part – three Bordelon children, three generations of Bordelon men, etc. – and familial ties, death, rebirth and forgiveness are recurring themes.
The message: The strongest message behind Queen Sugar is female empowerment. Men play a crucial part in the story both inside and outside of the Bordelon brood. But time and time again, the story comes back to Charley and Nova and how the choices they make either lead to their triumphs or heartbreaks. Women watching the show will undoubtedly see themselves in both characters making the viewing experience as cathartic as it is entertaining. Get ready to ugly cry.
The two-night premiere of Queen Sugar continues at 10 pm ET tonight with an encore of the pilot at 9 pm ET on OWN. Use the hashtag #GimmeSugar to join other fans and followers of Black Girl Nerds live-tweet the 2nd episode!
Mekeisha Madden Toby is a Los Angeles-based television critic. She’s also one of the co-founders of Antenna Free TV (AntennaFree.tv). The Detroit native has covered the medium and the entertainment industry for 17 years. Madden Toby is also an NPR expert commentator who has written for MSN TV, The Detroit News, TV Guide, CNN.com, Playboy.com, People Magazine, Us Weekly, The Seattle Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Minneapolis Star Tribune and The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. She holds a B.A. in journalism from Wayne State University. Madden Toby is also a wife and mother. When Madden Toby was 10, she started her own magazine and paid her staff in candy. Check out her podcast, “TV Madness with Mekeisha Madden Toby,” at tvmadnessmmt.podbean.com or on iTunes