A sleepless night recently found me binge-watching the Oprah Winfrey Network’s (OWN) original series, Queen Sugar. Queen Sugar follows the Louisiana-based Bordelon siblings – Nova, Charley and Ralph Angel – who’ve recently lost their father and inherited his failing sugarcane farm. The show has gotten rave reviews from critics and fans alike and after watching Season 1 and the Season 2 premiere, it’s easy to see why Queen Sugar is so popular.
***Possible spoilers below.
1. Dark-skinned women are winning
Through characters like Nova Bordelon (Rutina Wesley) and Keke (Tanyell Waivers), Queen Sugar helps to shatter the marginalization and stereotyping of dark-skinned women in TV and film. Nova is a dark-skinned lead who is not sassy, oversexualised or a domestic. Her character, like Keke’s is complex. They are desirable rather than objectified. Even as the argument can be made that other roles, like Ninja Devoe’s Roberta, do fall into the jezebel trope, I think the show is extremely balanced in its portrayal of black women and dark-skinned black women in particular. Similar to Yetide Badaki’s portrayal of Bilquis in American Gods, the non-stereotypical dark-skinned lead is speaking to a new generation of empowering TV characters.
“Someone reached out and said, just as a dark-skinned black woman, seeing that represented on screen was life-changing for her. That being a sensual being had never been something that she had never seen ascribed to someone like her before.” – Yetide Badaki in The Hollywood Reporter.
2. African spirituality is not trivialised
The images of African spirituality we normally get in mainstream media tend to trivialise the tradition and associate it with negativity. Nova’s practice of Ifa/Orisha doesn’t fall into this bracket. She demonstrates pride in her practices which are embraced by her family and community who come to her guidance and healing. When the funeral home manager objects to Nova stitching “non-Christian” objects to their father’s casket, Charley (Dawn Lyen-Gardner) and Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) fiercely defend her and the tradition.
3. Gender constructs are challenged
Queen Sugar challenges gender constructs not only with the women portrayed, but also with its treatment of masculinity. Ralph Angel’s son Blue (Ethan Hutchison) has a favorite toy in the form of a doll named Kenya. Yet, Ralph Angel doesn’t encourage Blue to play with more seemingly masculine toys, associate the doll with homosexuality or try to beat it out of Blue. Ralph Angel allows Blue to be free and defends him against patriarchal expectations.
In similar ways, the relationship between Violet “Aunt Vi” Bordelon (Tina Lifford) and Hollingsworth “Hollywood” Desonier (Omar Dorsey) also defies gender constructs. Aunt Vi is much older than Hollywood and she is self-conscious about the age difference at times. However, Hollywood assures Aunt Vi that he is comfortable with her age and constantly demonstrates that he loves her dearly.
4. The cinematography is amazing
There is absolute poetry to way Queen Sugar is filmed. It doesn’t look like it was made for TV. As Executive Producer and Creator, Ava Duvernay, only directed the first two episodes, but she assembled an all-female slate of directors for every episode – many of whom felt like they were never given fair opportunities or representation within the industry. Many scenes are reminiscent of still-lifes and the panning and close-ups present intimate portraits of the rural farmlands of the American South and the Bordelon family.
5. Kofi Siriboe
If the reasons above weren’t enough, Ghanaian actor and model Nana-Kofi Siriboe is reason alone. Apart from being photogenic and just plain beautiful, Siriboe brings grace and depth to his character especially since this is his first major role.
I’m definitely going to be following this series in Season 2 and checking out the book it’s based on by Natalie Baszile. Have you watched Queen Sugar? Let me know what you think in the comments!