About eight women gathered in a circle and waited patiently for Oprah Winfrey and the stars of Queen Sugar to walk into a hotel room at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills in Los Angeles during a press junket sponsored by OWN. As we all sat there, trying to prep ourselves, there was a buzz of excitement in the air. Here we were, picked to talk one-on-one not only with Winfrey but also with actors Kofi Siriboe (Ralph Angel) and Dawn-Lyen Gardner (Charley) from the hit OWN series.
“Is this intimate or what?” Winfrey asked as she walked into the room, where we all sat in awe.
In a room full of female writers handpicked by OWN from The Root, Vibe, Essence, The Undefeated, Ebony and Black Girl Nerds, Winfrey immediately recognized some familiar faces and made everyone feel at ease. Or at least we all put on a good show of being at ease.
Since its debut last year, Queen Sugar not only has garnered critical acclaim but also has quickly become one of OWN’s largest rating draws. The series, based on the book by Natalie Baszile, is gearing up for its second season. It follows the drama of the Bordelon family as they cope with life’s twists and turns, while also coming together to honor their patriarch’s legacy and attempting to run a successful sugarcane business.
“What has been your proudest moment from the past two seasons of Queen Sugar?” I asked Winfrey once the Q&A started, making sure to get my question in first.
“Everything makes me proud about [it]. To have a show that reflects so deeply who we are as a race and culture, to represent Southern values. Getting this story on air and ... told is a proud moment. I’ve been proud from the moment Ava [DuVernay] was down, and proud when [she] found Aunt Vi’s house,” Winfrey said enthusiastically.
As she answered the question, Winfrey proudly spoke about the cast and called it a “divine design.” Winfrey said that DuVernay doesn’t only cast for a character; she also looks for a spiritual connection between the actors. And that’s something that’s present when you see the cast interact.
“The connection with family and what you see happening with everyone is just a beautiful thing to see and accomplish,” Winfrey said, teary-eyed.
As Winfrey spoke about the series, you could see how proud she was about DuVernay and the cast. Her eyes also filled with tears as she talked about the house in New Orleans and how everything was purposefully picked during the set design.
“It’s little things; like, in Vi’s kitchen, there was an orange Fanta soda half used. It’s the greens in the sink. The artwork on the walls,” Winfrey said about the small details that stand out on the set and show. “It’s everything. It’s him [pointing to actor Kofi Siriboe],” she continued.
Speaking of Siriboe, some would say that the 24-year-old actor is wise beyond his years. Sure, the man is drop-dead gorgeous and smells like heaven (I still have his scent on a shirt I was wearing after he hugged me), but Siriboe takes his role as Ralph Angel seriously because it’s helped him accept some of his not-so-beautiful parts.
“It just comes back to identity and seeing Ralph Angel transition and, you know, be looked at as one way; and obviously, my life, I’m looked at one way, but it’s still a perspective. It’s still somebody from the outside defining me from how they see me. So seeing how he’s dealt with that and how sometimes his sensitivity or his passion gets in the way of him just accepting advice from his sisters, or advice from his auntie, I feel like I, myself, have taken a step back lately in saying, ‘What do I want?’ or ‘How do I want to move forward?” Siriboe said.
The actor continued to talk about having to face truths in himself that he had never been forced to look at.
Of his character’s life in the upcoming season, Siriboe said: “I want Ralph Angel to continue to explore. He wants to build a structure. Being defined so many times by the world, he wants to take ownership [of] what his legacy looks like.
“I pray Ralph Angel and his sisters get it together and realize how important they are to each other,” he continued.
“Not soon,” Winfrey interrupted, hinting that there are more seasons to come.
Ralph Angel and his sisters, Charley and Nova, really couldn’t get it right last season, and after I viewed the season premiere at a screening at L.A.’s Television Academy, it was clear that, just as Winfrey said, they won’t get it right anytime soon.
With Charley taking the lead in the family business—and somewhat emasculating Ralph in the process—and dealing with her crumbling marriage, people tend to have a love-hate relationship with Dawn-Lyen Gardner’s character. And rightly so. Charley isn’t the easiest person to like.
“My greatest hope for Charley is wholeness. I felt from the moment we see her ... that she’s in a spiritual crisis and doesn’t know it. There’s a fracture in there. She built all of these structures to avoid it. I feel like in season 2, we’re unpacking what that fracture is,” Gardner said. “I feel like my greatest wish for her is for her to sit down, have a cup of tea, and know that she is whole, perfect and complete as she is,” Gardner said.
Gardner continued to talk about the upcoming season, saying that Charley is going after the sugarcane mill and dignity for the farmers, and also confronting her fears while trying to keep her family together.
During the second part of the press junket, hundreds of people gathered at the Television Academy to screen the first episode of the new season. After the screening, DuVernay, along with Winfrey, Gardner and Siriboe, took the stage for a moderated panel discussion.
DuVernay made waves last year when she announced that every episode of Queen Sugar would be directed by women, and this year will be no different. When asked why they were having women direct each episode, DuVernay and Winfrey simply stated, because they can, and that it’s their goal to give female directors a seat at the table, so to speak.
“I love Game of Thrones, and I know I shouldn’t, but I do,” DuVernay said. “They’ve chosen to have every episode directed by men. Three seasons, and they did it because they could. And we hired all women directors because we also wanted to, and did. Our percentages when it comes to inclusion and diversity are 35 percent [higher] than the guild averages. It’s a choice to reach into the tribe of women directors.”
DuVernay also said that her biggest joy of the show is the female directors.
“I got an email two weeks ago from a pretty major show, saying they had an emergency and a director dropped out, and they wanted to hire a woman director. I started calling season 1 directors, and none of them could do it because they’re all booked!” DuVernay continued. “None of those women directed an episode of television before Queen Sugar; to do that another season is exciting.
“It’s hard to explain to people who don’t know what it feels like to be a small tribe in a massive army when you’re expected to fight the same battle and you’re not given the same weaponry,” she added.
What DuVernay and Winfrey have created on OWN is nothing short of magical. And when it comes to the fictional Bordelon family, legacy is something that every member is fighting for. But Siriboe knows that Queen Sugar will also leave a legacy in the real world.
“I hope Queen Sugar spreads awareness, and in the process of it spreading awareness, I hope people get healed. I want the show to stamp its time in history, for Ava getting all female directors. In 15, 20, 30 years, people will be able to watch this show and relate. This show is a conversation. I hope we can continue that and expand,” Siriboe said.
Season 2 of Queen Sugar premieres over two nights on June 20 and 21 on OWN.