How Nova Transcends Stereotypes of Activism

Season 1 Episode 103
CC | tv-pg
Nova is many things: a journalist, an herbal healer, an activist. In Queen Sugar, her activism plays a key role in illustrating how she relates to the world. Yet, show creator Ava DuVernay points out, Nova defies common notions of what an activist is.

"Part of what she is is an activist who cares about people and not an activist in the sense of a person who might be what we stereotype activism to be, which is marching and protesting and formal ways of dissent," Ava says. "She and, I think, the most beautiful activists are those that are active for positivity in their everyday life." In Episode 3, Nova visits a young man named Too Sweet in prison. Too Sweet says he's being pressured into a plea bargain even though he's not guilty. Ava says the Too Sweet storyline brings attention to a disturbing aspect of the criminal justice system. "Too Sweet is there to illuminate an issue that's really troublesome to me, which is the whole issue of youth incarceration and plea bargains. You know, many people don't know that over 90 percent of the people who are currently incarcerated have plea-bargained, which means that they never had a trial," Ava says.

Ava also reveals how the confrontation between Ralph Angel and the men trying to repossess his father's tractor is a springboard for dialogue about how black men are perceived. "Ralph Angel is the brother that, you know, sometimes we condemn the way that they are, but you celebrate it when you need it, when you need that aggressiveness, when you need that strength in a lot of ways that sometimes, you know, morphs into something else. What we've tried to play with in the character of Ralph Angel is really showing ... the viewer the times when you sit there and say, ‘Oh, he shouldn't have pulled that gun,' and the times when you're like, ‘Yeah, I'm glad he pulled that gun,'" Ava says. "And so that's a conflict within the lives of a lot of young brothers and a lot of black men in general—a lot of men in general—but there's some emotional response to him in that scene where I'm glad that he's defending something that's so precious to us, that land. His subsequent emotional breakdown after that scene is the part of the story that I really love."

Ava goes on to discuss why she selected Neema Barnette to helm the third episode of the series. "In handpicking all of the directors in the directorial team for Queen Sugar, Neema Barnette was one of the first people that I thought of. Legendary filmmaker since before it was cool to be a woman doing this work, before anyone was writing articles, before anyone was investigating it in the industry, before anyone had a mandate," Ava says.

"She was there throughout all 13 episodes as we shot, directing two of them, and so in this episode I just thought she did a beautiful job. To have her join us on Queen Sugar was an honor."

Finally, Ava explains how the intimate scene between Charley and Remy at the farmers' potluck hints at what's to come for the characters. "I think everyone's soul is tested in Queen Sugar. Every single character is tested in some way. No one's there just to be there," Ava says.

"I mean, that's real life," she continues. "We're tested every day. You know, who are we going to be today when we wake up? Who are we going to be if we get the opportunity to wake up and start again. So, that's really a big part of what we explore in Queen Sugar. And so, when Remy tells Charley that she will be tested, it is a foreshadowing of what is to come for her, but really what is to come for all of these characters."