Queen Sugar‘s Season Premiere Brilliantly Flips the Coin on the Strong Black Woman Persona
(Episode 2.01)Photo: OWN TV Reviews Queen Sugar
Queen Sugar left a sweet taste for TV critics and viewers in its debut last September, for storytelling that’s both poetic and powerful in its delivery. The story of the three estranged Bordelon siblings inheriting a sugarcane farm in St. Josephine, Louisiana after the unexpected death of their father, the series raised the standard of the truthful portrayal of African Americans and their collective experiences.
The Season Two premiere is set in the aftermath of revelations made in the Season One finale, with the Bordelons making choices and moving forward. Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) has approached the sugarcane farm with a sharper focus since discovering his late father Ernest’s updated will and testament affirming him—and leaving the farm to him—in the Season One finale. Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), who wrote the show’s title into the dirt of an abandoned mill, was completely in her element pitching “Queen Sugar Mill” in a business meeting. In contrast, there was the explosive confrontation when Nova (Rutina Wesley), uncovering the corrupt police system in New Orleans, was met with backlash when a white patron discovered that she was dating Calvin (Greg Vaughan), a police officer. How livid were you when he spat in Nova’s face? I wanted to jump through the screen, as did the many people I saw live-tweeting.
So, it comes as no surprise that their love affair didn’t survive: A handsome man emerges from Nova’s house after a one-night stand as she sits in the yard, killing any further interest with a “have a good day” send off.
Besides the farm and mill, the season premiere is about the women: Aunt Vi (Tina Lifford), Nova and Charley all endure the end of their relationships and have their sister-circle, even though that sister-circle is in a nightclub as Aunt Vi drunkenly vents about her breakup with Hollywood (Omar J. Dorsey). Nova, with her hidden dysfunction, will always take a moment to empower women, especially her aunt and baby sister:
“You, lady, are unforgettable! And you are unforgettable! And we are here! And we are beautiful and we’re about to go dance! Like now!” —Nova
We see this earlier in the episode with Nova surrounded at a table of black women at a baby shower talking about the order “love, marriage, baby carriage.” Whenever Nova is amongst a crowd, big or small, she’s in her element—always eager to fill someone’s ear with the intention to enlighten, always challenging traditions and ideologies while dropping nuggets of wisdom about how black woman carry their essence of black girl magic into their love lives:
“Who says it has to be in order? I mean, no offense to your mama but that idea is outdated. Just like the idea that we’re incomplete without a partner and kids.” —Nova
Charley remains restricted in her relationship with Remy (Dondre Whitfield), drawing the line to remain professional, mourning the demise of her marriage to basketball player Davis West (Timon Kyle Durrett) yet battling to be acknowledged as a separate entity. The moment she sees Davis in the same club with a woman—angering Aunt Vi, who lets her drunken tongue speak her sober thoughts—their ladies night ends on a couch, talking about heartbreak. In that moment to Nova, Gardner beautifully captures the depth of Charley’s hurt, saying, “I felt so safe in his arms, like nothing could touch me. And to see him put his arm around that girl. Why can’t we get it together? I mean, Hollywood and Vi didn’t last.” The Queen Sugar writers brilliantly flip the coin of the strong black woman persona, which all the women on the series wear, to show other facets of who they are: authentically, beautifully flawed. (Similarly, in Season One, when Bianca Lawson’s Darla, a recovering addict, gave her touching “I’m not my past” monologue, her description of the rawness she felt was incredibly triumphant.)
Under creator Ava DuVernay’s guidance, Queen Sugar has also powerfully addressed the current state of our country in terms of the racial and political climate. Unfortunately, it was only a matter of time before Micah (Nicholas L. Ashe), a black teen from famous wealthy parents, would have a sobering experience with racial profiling at the hands of a prejudiced southern cop when he’s pulled over for being in an expensive sports car.
It hits home for Nova, who has been a crusader for black men, affirming her nephew in his trauma as she wraps her jacket to hide his urine soaked pants. She has an uncanny ability to always be present, as she did for the formerly incarcerated Too Sweet in Season One, knowing that Micah’s forever changed—as Charley realizes that her control is limited and she can’t protect him from the world.
Meanwhile, after Charley’s clash with Davis outside the police station, we see how far her control goes as she stares at the sugar mill contract and forges his name. She’s standing on her own, by any means necessary and with no one’s permission needed.
Ashley G. Terrell is a freelance entertainment writer based in Michigan. Her work has appeared in Ebony Magazine, The Huffington Post, Black Girl Nerds, and more. She is currently working on her first novel and is the creator of the blog, The Carefree Black Girl Chronicles of ASHLEMONADE. You can follow her on Twitter.