The opening scene of the new OWN drama “Queen Sugar” creates an intimate narrative of Black bodies in White spaces to drive a deliberate, slow-paced narrative reminiscent of everyday life.


The saga of the Bordelon family on OWN’s new drama ‘Queen Sugar’ showcases contemporary Black life in the sugar cane fields of Louisiana. (Courtesy photo)

Adapted from Natalie Baszile’s novel of the same name and directed by Oscar nominee Ava DuVernay, the series features the Bordelon siblings, Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), a basketball wife, who manages the career of her NBA-star husband, Nova (“True Blood’s” Rutina Wesley), a journalist engaged in an affair with a married man; and Ralph-Angel (Kofi Siriboe), a single father with a shady past, trying to raise his young son.  Each wrestles with their personal dramas while attempting to manage the affairs of their father’s struggling sugar plantation.

Set in Louisiana, the show is situated as a contemporary examination of Black life across generations.  There are familial and cultural nuances to “Queen Sugar” that are not often seen in modern filmmaking, and certainly not with prime television, save for shows such as “Top of the Lake” or “Fargo.”

“I visited a friend in New Iberia, Louisiana, and I saw sugar cane in the middle of July. The cane was ten feet tall. The stalks were rustling in the breeze. I just knew this was the place,” Baszile told {Elle}.  “From that point on, the story took on the history connected to sugar. It became my mission to learn about the history of sugar cane and fold in the history of African Americans in this industry, from slavery, to the revolts of the Caribbean, to today. All of it became part of the story. It took another six years to create the universe of this book.”

As for the anticipated drama of the new series: there is plenty of it. With a directorial team made up of women only, DuVernay said that episodes are “full-bodied.”

“These are who have all gone their separate ways, but they carry a sense of family and responsibility with them wherever they’ve gone.  They’re trying to reconcile with each other who they are now and who they used to be,” DuVernay said in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, who serves as the show’s executive producer.  “We really rally around the idea or presenting a robust, contemporary African-American family in this moment, in America, right now.”

“Queen Sugar” is DuVernay’s first major project since “Selma,” her 2014 Oscar-nominated film about Martin Luther King’s historic 1965 voting rights campaign.

“It’s important that these images are made, that they are amplified, not only for Black people, but for everyone because it effects the way Black people see themselves, but also the way we are seen,” DuVernay said.  “It has a different pace and different tone and a different intention, I believe.”