There’s a lot of interesting things coming to television this fall, but the thing I was looking forward to the MOST was Queen Sugar, Ava DuVerney’s (the director of Selma) series about a set of siblings played by Rutina Wesley (True Blood, Hannibal), Dawn-Lyen Gardner (A number of character roles in shows like ER, Castle, and Heroes, along with many stage credits), and Kofi Siriboe (Awkward, Straight Outta Compton) coping with their inheritance of 800 acres of a Louisiana sugar farm. There’s a lot more to it than that, and I asked Mikki Kendall to join me in tell you why this is a Stuff You Should Be Watching.
If you’re not familiar with her work, here is Mikki’s bio: Mikki Kendall aspires to be an over-educated loudmouth with deep pockets. Once gainfully employed by an unnamed agency, she now invests her time in writing, wrangling jackasses on the internet & telling people to go straight to hell. Raised by a family of cutthroat sarcastic assassins with magic powers, her obsession with history has led to her publishing weird stories, and articles about every serious issue under the sun. Her non-fiction work has appeared in the Washington Post, Time, and a host of other outlets. Her fiction work includes comics, and short stories available via Revelator Magazine, Torquere Press and online.
There might be some squee.
RHG: AVA MADE A SHOW FOR YOU
MK: IT’S SO YUMMY!
RHG: In an effort to keep this from being just TOTAL INCOHERENT SQUEE, I propose we tryyyyyyyyy (sort of) to talk about the cast (OMG the cast) and the story (OMG the story) and QUEEN AVA OMG AVA and then get out the squee mop.
MK: Okay fine. Only because Rutina gave us everything from the first moment we saw her. And shamed the writers of True Blood forever for wasting so much of her time and talent on making her play second fiddle to Sookie. Can we at least squee slightly about how Rutina’s talent pushed whoever that white guy was into being almost interesting during the sex scene?
RHG: I’ve been a fan of her’s since True Blood, and was THRILLED BEYOND WORDS when she was cast in Hannibal, and as soon as I heard “So, Ava’s got this show and Rutina is in it” I was like “WHERE THE FUCK IS IT SO I CAN ONEPASS IT.” She’s SO good. She’s SO talented.
She isn’t a jaw actor (but she can act with her jaw, but she then can act with ALL THE PARTS OF HER FACE) and she’s SO gorgeous and the crew knows how to LIGHT HER and everyone else and I’m just SO HAPPY that she’s found a show that respects her, respects her talent, and god I hope she got a lot of True Blood money to put up with all that shit (not enough, I bet). In short: Rutina is amazing.
(There was a dude there? I didn’t notice.)
MK: He’s only important in that I got to see Rutina be amazing. And I do love that it’s clear that she has a full life. My kingdom for a character that does root work, sells weed and is a working writer. The sheer complexity…whew.
Ok. Rutina is not alone in making Queen Sugar great. Can we talk about Kofi Siriboe who plays Ralph Angel? Because good lord his scenes…he’s got me so invested in seeing him prosper.
RHG: Can you explain root work a little bit?
Oh my god, Ralph Angel. He’s trying so hard to be a good son, and a good dad, and figure his shit out, and these SISTERS who think they have everything all settled, and the whole complex idea of masculinity and what that means and how to navigate a world that doesn’t give a fuck about you and that scene where he was doing Blue’s hair just killed me DEAD. These faces Ava found.
How about Charley? Let us discuss Charley.
MK: Rootworking is another term for Hoodoo. It’s a Black American tradition rooted in West African beliefs that we brought here during slavery. Some would call it magic or religion. It’s syncretic and not something to trifle with as far as I’m concerned. Or to learn from white people. But that’s another conversation.
Charley is so amazing. I was completely prepared not to like her in that first few scenes with her girlfriends in LA. And then Dawn-Lyen Gardner turned on that incredible talent and made her a character so much more complex than I expected her to be in that first scene.
Also can we talk about Bianca Lawson? Who is clearly a vampire.
RHG: Hey, she’s actually playing older than a teenager for the first time in like 20 years. Maybe she just ages REALLY REALLY slowly?
Nah, you’re right, she’s a vampire. And a super talented one. Everyone involved is amazing. Every single person. I would not like to be the person that fucked with Aunt Violet- her denial of sweet tea to Davis (Charley’s loser pro-basketballer of a husband) was SCARY.
MK: So listen, Tina Lifford did not come to play, she came to slay. Her and Omar Dorsey have made even the smallest bits of dialogue jump out at you. I am rooting for them like they are kin to me and again…the sheer level of talent on display. The casting for this show was so spot on.
I hate Davis, but you can tell that Timon Kyle Durret is playing his bad guy role to the hilt. Nicholas Ashe is brand new and determined not to be outshone. Ethan Hutchison has made Blue the baby we all want to cuddle forever. Ugh, why is this show so good and not available for binge watching.
RHG: Kinda puts paid to the lie that there’s not a lot of Black talent out there, doesn’t it?
Waiting for a another week to see what happens next is KILLING ME.
So, let’s talk about how this is a total refreshing change in television fare. When was the last time we got a family drama about a Black family? Under One Roof (which lasted six episodes in 1995)?
MK: It’s been so long (unless you count Tyler Perry shows which…I mostly don’t). And for once there is clearly a decent budget. And a serious commitment to quality in writing and lighting and everything. EVERYTHING. THE LIGHTING ALONE…EVERYONE LOOKS SO GORGEOUS AND NOT PASTY OR WASHED OUT!!!
I…might have a lot of squee.
RHG: Jezebel (I know, I know) had a piece a couple of years ago about how photographers and cinematographers just… didn’t know/refused to learn how to light black skin so it looked GOOD. Ava (with her Oprah money) went out and found a diverse crew that knows how to light and frame and do everything to make this her vision- her goal was to show what a difference having a diverse crew had and three episodes in, it TOTALLY shows.
She’s hired female directors for every episode, because this story is mostly about Black women and everything that means. EVERYTHING. And white dude directors just don’t get it. This isn’t their experience. This isn’t their life. And you view things through your experience. That’s just how humans are. WHICH IS WHY REPRESENTATION BEHIND THE CAMERA MATTERS AS MUCH AS IN FRONT.
I have feelings.
MK: We have many of the same feelings. Because even though Empire is a soap opera IMO, and Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder are ensemble shows, the fact that they can exist and Queen Sugar can exist and Tyler Perry’s shows can too is amazing. So many facets of Black life and community and mythical foolishness and the wonder that is the people that we interact with in our communities.
Like..I love that we see Blue’s teacher is Latina and she talks about her culture and community with Blue. And we see city and country and did I mention I love this show a lot? Because it even gets into the idea that Black/white segregation isn’t the same as Black isolation from other communities of color. WHICH IS THE REALITY OF EVERYWHERE. (Sorry I am from Chicago and everyone talks about segregation here like Black, Latino, and Asian communities don’t interact all the time! And here comes this book and this show to prove it!)
RHG: The thing about this show that makes me the happiest is how happy it’s made Black women. Watching Black twitter in a massive squee-fest on twitter when it airs is just… so great. I’m so happy for everyone and like, I get to see myself everywhere, right? And now y’all have something, and it’s a drop in the bucket but it’s made by someone who cares and I just get flaily over other people’s joy. It’s a delight. It really is.
RHG: Another thing I want to bring up is the concept of mirrors and windows, and for non-Black audiences who may be worrying “is this for me?” One of the reasons we spend SO. MUCH. TIME. yelling about needing diverse art (in books, movies, tv, on stage, in museums, etc etc etc) is because it’s important for everyone to see versions of themselves reflected- you get a sense of what’s possible, what’s out there to do and be. AND it’s important for people to see other kinds of people and lives- that’s the window- and begin to internalize the idea that there’s no one way to be a Black man, or an Asian woman, or or or.
And the “is this for me” question is complicated- on the one hand, this wasn’t made for me, this was made to celebrate Black life, so it’s not ABOUT me. But it was also made for everyone to be able to watch and learn from that celebration, and get an idea of how varied and complex it is. So yeah, white audiences may not consider tuning into the Oprah Winfrey Network. BUT THEY SHOULD. There’s so much more to learn, if you go in search of it.
MK: My thing is, as a Black person I am expected to consume imagery and media that doesn’t include me at all. Often (see “feminist” shows like Girls or Agent Carter) when I complain about the lack of diversity the responses range from “Be patient” to “Well Black people wouldn’t have been there because…” list of nonsensical ahistorical reasons.
Well, here’s a show that doesn’t just include my community, it focuses on a facet of it. You are certainly welcome to come along for the ride, but I’m not going to make a bunch of explicit invites. You can put on your big kid pants and watch (as of course you did RHG) or you can shut the fuck up when it is Black Girl Time and let us get on with our squee. For once I get to be a fan without having to pretend that I don’t notice the lack of diversity and it is wonderful.
RHG: On that note, the only thing I have to say is WATCH THIS SHOW Y’ALL IT IS AMAZING THANK YOU AVA
MK: This is the best thing on TV.
Expect more from shows, hire everyone involved when this is over.
And if it isn’t nominated for an Emmy expect to hear about it. Because this is literally one of the best shows I have ever watched. IN MY LIFE.