By: Kesia Alexandra
There is something immediately attractive about Queen Sugar’s Charley Bordelon West. It has very little to do with looks and everything to do with a sort of power she commands with ease. She is a basketball wife, but she is also the creator of her husband’s brand. There is a sense from the first moment we see Charley, that she has made Davis West more so than Davis has made her.
With oversized sunglasses and a designer purse in hand, she comes across as a woman who has always led this life, however, the first full conversation we see between her and Davis is her reprimanding him for giving their teenage son money.
“We can’t spoon feed him every opportunity. He needs to work for money. He’s got to learn…real life,” she says. This exchange alone tells us much of what we need to know about both Davis and Charley: their differing definitions of “real life” will play a part in the destruction of their relationship. But more importantly, it is Charley’s definition of “real life” that in part allows her to remake herself as “Charley Bordelon” in Queen Sugar Seasons 1 and 2.
Despite the likability Charley Bordelon West “boss woman” demeanor allows, her identity is largely defined by how other people see her. The car, the clothes, even parts of her personality feel like a performance — an attempt at proving to people she is more than “just a wife” living off her husband. It is her dedication to maintaining her image that causes her to avoid visiting her father in St. Joseph. It is his death that becomes the first step in the breaking of Charley Bordelon West.
By the time Charley makes it to Louisiana, her father has already passed. For a long time, the person we see in response to that is “boss woman” Charley. In fact, the last words she speaks at the end of Episode 1 are, “sorry Daddy. I’ll fix it”. She springs into action, making arrangements and appointing herself as the leader in the affairs of the family farm. All this occurs while her life in L.A. begins to fall apart. The unraveling of Mrs. Bordelon West is in full swing when it is revealed that “Goldie the Prostitute” is Melina Goloudian, a real person and a woman just like Charley, a victim of Davis’s definition of “real life,” and most importantly, not a liar after all.
The transition from Bordelon-West to Bordelon is not a linear one. We see Charley dip back into her lush identity frequently, sometimes for her own benefit and other times for the benefit of others. It happens when she tries to get Micah into private school, when the police come after Ralph Angel for shooting a gun, and when a reporter comes to get a story on the opening of the mill. One can’t really blame her. There is an allure to the image. The scene where Micah’s female friends gush over meeting “Mrs. Bordelon-West” is a humorous but telling one. The girls compliment her on her social media presence and fashion saying they would like to be like her when they grow up. Micah’s response is, “that’s Mrs. West for you,” as if to acknowledge the person they’re gushing over, while lovely and impressive, is a caricature, and only those close to Charley know who she truly is.
Despite slipping her wedding rings on and off, everything in the universe seems to be pushing Charley towards reclaiming herself. Her son being rejected by a local private school, losing the luxury apartment she found to its original owner, and moving in at the mill are all signs Charley must move on from who she was to who she needs to be. And if you believe who we choose to date is an indication of who we are, then her relationship with Remy (and the ebbs and flows of it) serves as a testament to Charley’s own growth.
In Season 2, Episode 4, Ralph Angel informs his older sister that “money don’t make you safe here, Charley. Just make you forget who you really are.” The statement is, of course, not 100 percent true. Charley’s fame, a byproduct of her money, did afford Ralph Angel some safety when he could have been hauled back to prison for violating his parole. Still, I think this hit a chord with Charley as the farmers poking fun about her manicure does. There are obvious benefits to having money, but the question that remains is who would Charley be if she didn’t have it?
In the Season 2 mid-season finale, we see Charley embrace her natural hair. This act is something many black women (generally) feel strongly about. In the positive light, it often implies acceptance of self and a rebirth of sorts. When Charley looks at herself in the mirror after peeling the towel off her head, there is a look in her eyes of seeing herself for the first time, not as others see her but as how she truly is.
One of the final scenes of Season 2 before the mid-season break is Charley’s conversation with Remy about what is “real”. It is a heavy scene which sums up a lot of the changes we have seen in Charley over the two seasons of Queen Sugar. She says to him, “I’m not calculating with you. What’s real is how I feel about you.” Finally, it is clear she does not simply see him as a friend or a St. Joseph fling but rather as a relationship that could be substantial and lasting. Her plea, “don’t you want to be with me? Can you try?” would be pathetic if a woman less in control and with less to lose uttered it. In Charley’s case, however, it is an unmasking and a major leap in her transition from Charley Bordelon West to Charley Bordelon.
In this same scene, Charley makes the statement, “one of the few things a woman can control is her story.” This summarizes who Charley is and has always been. She is a woman who prioritizes — above men, marriage, and even status — her own narrative. Considering all she has been through with her marriage, it is admirable, especially compared to the many women who stick it out with husbands just as bad as Davis because they have no story themselves to fall back on or do not feel their story is important enough. It will be interesting to see where Charley goes from here, as her divorce is finalized and her life as a career woman in St. Joseph becomes solidified as reality.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kesia Alexandra spends a lot of time writing about being a black girl in America from her personal perspective. She is very interested in any platform that pushes black girls to the forefront and tries to do that in her own work. Find her on Twitter at @XIVXIXIXI