For seven seasons, Queen Sugar has been one of TV’s most underrated dramas. It’s never swept award shows or been a critics darling, but it has been an essential part of Black culture.
Through the Bordelons, we’ve dealt with the corporate takeover of Black farms, domestic violence, chronic illness, healthcare, addiction, COVID-19 and police violence against the Black community. Perhaps, most importantly, it has tackled all these issues with grace, dignity and authenticity.
The familial aspect of the show extends far beyond its cast and characters. A set visit during the filming of Queen Sugar’s series finale instantly revealed that everyone from hair and makeup, to sound, to set design, are a family. It’s abundantly clear how much everyone involved truly cares about this show. Part of that stems from the fact that more than a dozen crew members have been with the series since it began, working their way up the ranks of their respective departments. For creator/executive producer/director Ava DuVernay, this is one of the reasons why it was important for her to come back and direct the final episode.
“There’s a real full circle moment. I’ve been emotional since I decided to wrap the show and knowing that this moment will come. I had to figure out a way to come back,” DuVernay told The Root. “I was originally going to direct the final two, but because we did them in blocks, I could only end up spending the time to do one. I always say I don’t have children. My films and projects are what I leave behind. It’s like not going to your kid’s graduation. I had to be here.”
One of the central reasons why Queen Sugar has worked so well for so long is because the Bordelons are just a regular family. They could be your aunt, cousin, sister or brother. Obviously, they’re special, but they’re also relatable–which is why we keep coming back to watch them.
“I think one of the things that was really important for me in the story of them is to show what people call everyday life, which is just about people who actually are working, finding joy, finding solace, but also resisting in everyday life,” the A Wrinkle in Time director said. “Because it’s not just people who are marching. It’s not just people who are making policy. It’s not just people who have money or wealth or a platform or celebrity. It’s the women at church who make the food after the repast.”
She continued, “We’re showing folks making change where they are in their own footprint. I think the things that I do may be on a bigger canvas, but it is just as important as the people who are doing things in small ways and that’s one of the things we always want to be sure to demonstrate…All those little bits of Black culture were really important to us. I think they show resistance, they show joy and they show chipping away at a system that says none of that has been valuable, because we know it is.”
Along with the way it has showcased Black culture, Queen Sugar’s most important legacy will be in all of the women directors whose careers the series has launched. DuVernay has famously only hired women to helm each episode because it’s so much harder for them to get those opportunities. These talented women have gone on to work on major series and franchises thanks to the doors that Ava and Queen Sugar opened for each of them.
“Just looking at women who I loved their work and continue to do that through all the seasons,” the Selma director said. “Teachers, people who work behind the scenes in different ways. And when I thought they were ready—and some of them were ready, and some weren’t. But this experience helped them.”
Even with all the opportunities she’s provided to others, don’t call the Emmy-winner a trailblazer or history maker. DuVernay saves those titles for the game changers who have come before her.
“A lot of my work is really steeped in history, so I’m a super student of history. I know there’s nothing I’m doing now that someone hasn’t already done,” she said. “When I hear people say ‘Oh, you’re a trailblazer. You’ve done these things.’ Mine has an effect because we’re in 2022, but whether it’s Julie Dash or all kinds of people who distributed their own work and had Black crews, it’s been done before, it just hasn’t been amplified. I don’t feel like I’m blazing a trail, I’m walking in the footsteps of people who blazed the trail.”
Queen Sugar premieres Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 8 p.m. on OWN and streams on Hulu.