Queen Sugar will rivet you from the very first scene. (Let’s just say Rutina Wesley and Ava DuVernay make getting dressed super sexy.) It is probably the quietest of OWN’s growing list of dramas, next to Greenleaf and Tyler Perry’s two soaps (If Loving You is Wrong and The Haves and the Have Nots). Its two-night premiere on Sept 6th and 7th begins with a commercial-free, hour-long episode. The series has already been picked up for a second 13-episode season and the production has already been lauded for its all-female directorial team. The excitement for this show is high and as someone who has seen the first three episodes, it delivers.
Queen Sugar is a quiet, down-home drama surrounding the lives of the three Bordelon siblings as they wrestle with their father’s unexpected death and the 800-acres of sugar farm he leaves them in his will.
If you haven’t already seen the trailer, here it is:
The pilot, titled “Far Too Long,” is an amazingly crafted episode — well written and beautifully directed (with some amazing cinematography). We are taken through the lives of each of the three siblings, before their worlds are rocked in different ways, finally bringing them together at the end. The show doesn’t try to do too much or put too much in your face all at once. It spreads the backstories of the different characters across the first few episodes, telling us things as naturally as they might come up in real life. I love when exposition is handled gracefully.
The first half of episode one introduces us to the Bordelon siblings. Nova (Rutina Wesley, for you True Blood fans) is a local New Orleans journalist (who does a little healing on the side), dealing with a very messy love life while trying to softly inspire her community to flock together. Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), is the manager-wife of an LA basketball player whose team is involved in a sex scandal. And Ralph-Angel (Kofi Siriboe) is struggling to take care of his son, Blue, while trying not to fall back into the life that sent him to prison. The siblings are scattered and disconnected, but their father’s death brings them together.
Queen Sugar, while based off the book of the same name by Natalie Baszile, is different from its source material. The novel features just Charley as the lead sister with Ralph-Angel on the side, while the series gives us two sisters . This change not only allows for more interesting family dynamics, but allows the audience more than one entry point into this world. Nova is the southern, hometown activist who moved just far enough away to live her own life, but is still connected to her roots, while Charley is the one who escaped. Her extravagant life is far removed from the simple one she’s returning to. I love that we get to see different representations of women, especially black women. Giving Charley a sister helps to widen our perspective with more voices from our community. With Charley, Nova, and Aunt Vi, we get lots of opportunity for black women to speak to each other, in a Bechdel-passing, loving, authentic way that may have been limited without creating the character of Nova.
Other members of the Bordelon family include the soon departed Ernest, owner of the family sugar farm, Aunt Violet — whose younger boyfriend Hollywood might be my favorite character of the series so far, with his hard working nature and attentive adoration of Violet — Charley’s son Micah, and Ralph Angel’s son Blue. What I loved about this show upon watching it was how immediately familiar the family dynamics felt. Blue spends a lot of time with his “Papa” Ernest and Aunt Vi. Charley may live in LA, but she still talks to her father and offers him money (that he rejects even though he needs it). It’s clear that distance hasn’t affected their love for one another. Charley and Nova don’t really speak, but when Charley comes home upon Ernest’s death, they RUN to each other and hug — their grief overpowering the strain in their relationship.
Queen Sugar is not a soap opera. It has drama, but the most melodramatic scene comes from Charley who rages at her husband after finding out his big secret. But that’s after a scene where she hesitates to be a part of a Basketball Wives type show because she and her husband are not like that. The contrast is very purposeful. Every outburst serves a narrative function, rather than just for the delight of the audience. The characters have discord without being spiteful. There are misunderstandings without it leading to immediate hatred or brooms being thrown. It all felt very normal, very ordinary. Their grief isn’t loud, like it would be on many other shows.
BGN was able to screen the first three episodes, and while I don’t want to say too much about episodes 2 and 3 (as that’s where a lot of the meat of the drama begins to unfold), they are very important to watch as a whole. It is as if the first three episodes are all the introduction — before, during, and after Ernest Bordelon’s death. What happens after episode three will be the status quo of the series: the audience watching this family try to move forward, together. It is a journey I am excited to take with them.
Will the Bordelon siblings be able to resurrect their father’s sugar farm and mend their relationships? The prevailing narrative of many popular shows these days would lead to a no. But Queen Sugar is about redemption, about family, about the South, about hope. The brilliance of this show is that Ava DuVernay tells us what to expect from that very first, riveting scene. Nova wakes up in the morning (melanin aglow), gets dressed (sexily, I must remind you), and stands on a balcony for a beautifully lit New Orleans sunrise. Ready to face the day. Sunrises are hope. New Orleans — its survival after all it’s been through — is a city of hope. Queen Sugar is a story about hope.
Tune-in September 6th and 7th for a two-night premiere on OWN. And, may I suggest keeping a box of tissues nearby? You’re going to need it.