Ava DuVernay reigns with fresh crown jewel ‘Queen Sugar’

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Young Ms. DuVernay had a farm, Q-U-E-E-N! Critically acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay, known for cinematic hits as “Selma” and “13TH,” has claimed a new throne on the small screen with her powerful television drama “Queen Sugar.”

Based on Natalie Baszile’s novel of the same name, “Queen Sugar” examines the lives of three Bordelon siblings, Nova, Charley and Ralph Angel, as they work together in Louisiana to preserve a sugarcane farm left to them in their father’s will. The untimely tragedy of Ernest Bordelon’s death forces the estranged family to set their differences aside and continue their father’s legacy — because nothing says family reunion better than an unforeseen funeral.

Broadcasted on the Oprah Winfrey Network, “Queen Sugar” is carried by strong performances from Rutina Wesley, Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Kofi Siriboe portraying each Bordelon sibling respectively. The hourlong series features a talented cast that captivates the screen with effortless chemistry and brings the Bordelon family to a standout execution. Starring as the eldest of the quarrelsome trio, “True Blood” alum Rutina plays Nova — a headstrong social justice activist and journalist who is romantically involved with a white, married detective. Naturally, conflict ensues as the Black Lives Matter advocate challenges her law-enforcing lover and the Louisiana police force he serves to demand justice for a falsely incarcerated Black teen.

Formerly incarcerated himself, Kofi stars as youngest Bordelon sibling Ralph Angel — a struggling single father who fights to reclaim custody of his young son as his ex-girlfriend, a recovering drug abuser, resurfaces to make amends and reconnect with her family. Between suffering belittlement from his sisters and navigating post-prison life, Ralph Angel demonstrates the kind of admirable resilience and perseverance that makes for a promising first season conclusion.

Last but certainly not least, Dawn-Lyen mesmerizes as the tenacious Charley Bordelon West. Estranged from ex-husband Davis West, a high-profile NBA player accused of raping a sex worker, the middle Bordelon sibling leaves her lavish life in Los Angeles behind for the Deep South to attend Ernest’s funeral, raise her teenage son and help her family manage the farm. In the midst of re-acclimating to her Southern roots, Charley evolves as a take-no-prisoners businesswoman who vilifies her estranged husband’s hired mistress, assumes control over her father’s deteriorating plantation and wards off determined landowners from regaining the farm they held during slavery. As the series reveals, the landowners were once depraved slaveholders that owned the Bordelon family. Hell hath no fury like a basketball wife scorned!

Stunningly shot in the “Child of the Mississippi,” “Queen Sugar” offers breathtaking scenery and dimension to the state of Louisiana. Featuring wide shots of the French Quarter and the 9th Ward of New Orleans, DuVernay’s breakthrough series molds Louisiana into an estimable character of its own with enough Southern charm and pulsating history to keep viewers seduced. Even St. Joseph Plantation — a primary filming location and one of the few unharmed sugar cane plantations in the River Parishes — basks in the limelight as various camera shots give life to the Bordelon farm.

Earning five NAACP Image Award nominations, including best drama series, “Queen Sugar” triumphs as a timely series depicting issues of sexual assault, addiction, systemic oppression and mass incarceration. Delivering a positive representation of African-Americans on the small screen, DuVernay succeeds in telling the story of a family united by unconditional love, adversity and forgiveness while shedding light on the paralyzing effects of institutional racism and the legacy of America’s “original sin” — slavery. An unapologetic groundbreaker, DuVernay has transcended the boundaries of television by hiring female directors to helm all 13 episodes of her commended drama — an achievement of inclusion that is often unheard of and unpracticed in Hollywood.

As the first woman of color to direct a $100 million live-action film, “A Wrinkle in Time,” DuVernay perfectly embodies the “sky’s the limit” proverb. Helming the award-nominated “Queen Sugar” with the one and only Oprah, the UCLA alum is a formidable powerhouse and an awe-inspiring trailblazer. With a second season renewal under her belt, DuVernay proves that slaying ratings while reigning over her new court is all in a day’s work for an unparalleled queen.

Contact Jordan Joyner at [email protected].

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