Charley Bordelon West: Mother, Manager, Strategist
Charley Bordelon West is a mother, manager and strategist. The Queen Sugar character is beautifully portrayed by actress Dawn-Lyen Gardner (Unforgettable). Here, visionary filmmaker Ava DuVernay and Dawn-Lyen discuss the character's motivation and complexity.
Ava says she didn't know about Dawn-Lyen before the audition process. "It was such a delight to find her and feel like I'm finding this jewel that not everyone knows about, but they soon will," Ava says. "She brings such a strength and a charisma to the character of Charley Bordelon West."
"Superwoman" is the word Dawn-Lyen uses to describe Charley. "She is a daughter and also a sister and also a mother, and she, sort of, does her best, I think, to do all of those roles to the utmost," Dawn-Lyen says, "but the one that really defines her is being the brand builder of her husband, Davis West, who is an NBA superstar."
"Charley is a master strategist," Ava says, "so she is a marketer, and she's the manager of her husband's career, and she's built, basically, the Davis West empire, 'the Gentleman,' you know, the multimillion-dollar empire that is this NBA player."
According to Dawn-Lyen, Charley defies easy categorization. "It can be, I think, a bit of a trap to think of her as just a basketball wife," Dawn-Lyen says. "There's a very specific image that can come up when you think about that, and, you know, her backstory is, I think, more unexpected than that in that she finished college and went on to pursue a master's in business, even after having a baby and being married to an NBA superstar, and I think that says a lot about her."
In the script, Charley has consciously chosen to manage her husband's business interests. "That is a sacrifice she made with her MBA," Ava says. "She chose to put it into her husband, Davis West, and build this family fortune, and when the facade of the empire crumbles, she has to figure out what to do with all of the energy, intention and experience and expertise she's put into him."
When she moves to Louisiana, she puts her skills to use in a very different endeavor: getting her father's farm back off the ground. "It goes to be put into the family business and to this farm," Ava says. "In order to do that, you need an actress who's able to show the strength of the strategist but also, you know, the subtleties of a wife scorned, of a daughter who's struggling to regain what her father lost, and so it takes a very special actress to balance all of that."