Interview: Ava DuVernay And ‘Queen Sugar’ Cast Talk Women Directors And Family Intricacies

Academy-Award nominated director Ava DuVernay takes a step back from the silver screen for the small screen to deliver Queen Sugar, a story about a family struck by tragedy as they collectively and individually gain their footing in the after. The 13-episode season premiere, which kicks off Sept. 6 and 7, will show viewers not only a reflection of the human intricacies families often go through, but Ms. DuVernay was not shy about casting actors rich in talent and melanin.

VIBE caught up with the Selma director and cast at this year’s Essence Festival where DuVernay spoke in detail about why this season is directed solely by women, and the cast goes in depth about their individual roles and their complicated family history.

READ: Ava DuVernay To Direct HBO Films’ ‘The Battle of Versailles’

VIBE: What complexities will the women directors bring to the show and what humanities will they bring?
Ava DuVernay: I think you bring yourself to it but the idea is who is the self, who is the person dictating what it’s like. Does that self, or does that person who has the job of dictating what we see always have to be a man? Does it always have to be a white man? Does it always have to be the same kind of voice? I don’t know what they’re going to bring, I mean we’re looking at it right now, we’re editing it together but I know it’s going to be different from what we usually see and that’s what I want. I want something that’s going to shake things up a little bit.

How do the female directors and the writer’s room change the feel of the show?
The writer’s room is a diverse writer’s room with the majority of the writers being people of color and women. Every director is a woman and the whole crew is diverse. It’s a inclusive crew as we say, so I think that chemistry, that alchemy, that idea of having all different kinds of people comes out in the show. It feels different, its a bit of all of us in there.

Tell me about your character Nova Bordelone.
Rutina Wesley: 
She is the oldest. She’s a healer with her hands and also with her spirit and energy. She’s a leader in her community, the world community, her home community and she’s an activist. She’s sort of a modern day woman who’s a beautiful mess. I describe her in that way because your going to see a lot of different facets of her. For example, she has high morals, but her lover is married. And as far as her siblings go we’ve been estranged so now we all have to come back together after a family tragedy and figure out how to navigate our relationships that have been distant and she serves as the head of that as far as trying to get us all together in that kind of way.

What about your character?
Dawn-Lyen Gardner:
I play Charley Bordelon West. When you meet Charley, she is a manager to her husband Davis West who is a major NBA superstar. She’s a mother to a teenager son, and she’s very defined by her achievements and success. It’s how she establishes her self worth and that’s all turned upside down within the first episode and she’s confronting who she is without those things defining her anymore. So we find her back in Louisiana and back with her family whom she’s been estranged from and figuring out her relationships again and figuring out who she is in this new environment. It’s sort of like a new world strategist because she’s a master strategist in an old world and how does she move forward.

When I was doing my research, I learned that the family now has to learn how to run a sugarcane farm?
DLG: It’s inherited land and it’s also how the family has to find itself as a farming family and there’s been a lot of problems with that and it sort of reflects the state of black farmers in America. There’s a lot historical obstacles that are very specific to that community so we being to unearth that through the season.

What were some of your first expressions and reactions when you learned you landed the role?
RW: When Ava called me, it was the day after my 37th birthday, and she said, ‘I would love for you to come on Queen Sugar.’ I was silent, and then it was kind of crazy, and then she told me that she also cast Dawn and I am losing it. I was just so proud. Honestly, we really get to the work because we know each other. We can really get deep and nasty and then be like, ‘Love You’ when its all said and done. And that’s the kind of work that your’e going to see coming from all of us because we are there to serve a story and we’re really going to give you story and characters. We really allow ourselves to be completely free in our play and our work.

Your character is the youngest and he’s searching for redemption after doing time in prison. Tell me about your character a little bit. What’s his name?
Kofi Siriboe:  Ralph Angel Bordelon. Ralph Angel was in prison. He has a son that he left behind and he’s just looking for his identity. He’s been a victim to his choices in the past and now he’s trying to actually form what he believes he is, which I don’t think he completely knows but through his family dynamics, his sisters, his auntie, the loss of his father, the absence of his mother, there’s so many things that are playing with his mental, then the reality of him being formally incarcerated hits him. He doesn’t have the freedom and choices that the average man, or human being has, so he has to navigate that world but at the same time navigate the internal life of all this stuff that you have to deal with.