Ava DuVernay on the "Scarlet Letter" of Being a Convicted Felon

Season 1 Episode 104
CC | tv-pg
Queen Sugar doesn't shy away from broaching complex, hot-button topics. Some issues are central to the show. For example, single father Ralph Angel is trying to restart his life after being incarcerated, and as he does so, he runs into a series of road blocks that seem to be purposely constructed to keep convicted felons from re-entering society.

This issue is near and dear to show creator Ava DuVernay's heart, and she says Ralph Angel's struggle is an illustration of what's going on throughout the country. "You get into the heart of the matter for formerly incarcerated people. You know, it's very difficult to do anything. You know, we put people in prison, and they do their time, and they come out, and they're still doing time," Ava says.

"You have to check a box that you are a convicted felon in order to even apply for a job," she continues. "Does anyone want to hire that person if they've got someone who's not a convicted felon? You know, it's the scarlet letter that continues to follow people."

Every episode of the series, Ava says, reveals how former convicts are marked by their crimes. "There's over 40,000 rights that formerly incarcerated people are denied across the United States. Forty thousand little things that they can't do that people who haven't been incarcerated can do," Ava says.

"It's one of our great kind of national tragedies, I think, and so we try to show that through Ralph Angel and how his own family thinks about him. It's a sight to see how he handles it."

Additionally, the latest episode of Queen Sugar depicts Charley going back to Los Angeles to manage the fallout from rape rumors swirling around her NBA star husband. "It was really important, I thought, to show Charley go back to Los Angeles in this episode so that we understand that she left in a hurry, and, at this point in the story, she is still definitely between two worlds, thinking that she can straddle both," Ava says.

"I think it's important for the audience to know all the tools and weaponry that Charley has at her disposal," Ava continues. "She's a savvy, experienced strategist. I mean, this woman built a multimillion-dollar empire. So, she knows how to manipulate the situation and how to kind of work things to her gain."

As the series progresses, Ava says, the pressure will intensify on Charley to commit to a lifestyle. "It's exciting to see, you know, through Charley two worlds start to come together. Will they collide? Will they weave together beautifully? I think what she comes to find out is that exactly what Remy says is right: You can't be half in this."

Ava goes on to discuss the director of "The Darker Sooner," So Yong Kim, one of the filmmakers she hand-selected to work on the series. "So Yong Kim is one of the mighty tribe of women directors of Queen Sugar. She's an extraordinary filmmaker," Ava says.

"At the time we invited her to come on Queen Sugar, it was her first episode of television, so it was beautiful to see this fantastic filmmaker apply all of her gifts to our episode."

Ava also admires her colleague for being a trailblazer in the field. "When you think about who So Yong Kim is, I think that I'm one of the few doing what I do as a black woman director; this is a Korean woman director. It's a smaller tribe, and she's out there knocking down doors and killing it."