The Queen Sugar Scene That Made Ava DuVernay Cry
Season 1 Episode 101
Sometimes, life and art intersect in unexpected, moving ways. For Ava DuVernay, the award-winning director behind Selma, that intersection took place in the very first episode of Queen Sugar, the new original drama that she created and produced for the Oprah Winfrey Network about the ups and down of three African-American siblings after their father passes away and leaves them a Louisiana sugarcane farm.
In that episode, which Ava also directed, Ralph Angel Bordelon brings his son, Blue, to visit the family patriarch, Ernest, in the hospital shortly before he dies. The two men exchange a smile as Blue curls up in Ernest's arms. It was a moment that hit close to home for Ava, and she cried—the first time she's ever done so on set.
"I've recently lost my father. It was one month after I shot that scene that I actually experienced that scene, that I was in the scene, that I was in the hospital doing that very thing," Ava says.
"I know that when I shot that scene, it was the first time I ever cried on set in my director's chair. It was so moving to me, and I've shot a lot of moving things, so many products that deal with, like, narratives from a real heart space, and I've never cried in the director's chair, but what I was seeing through the camera moved me so much, and I remember thinking, 'God, what is that?' I just thought it was the scene itself, but I think there was something else going on energetically, but it represents something that I don't feel we saw hardly enough, which is generational love between black men within families, the kind of tender heart of black men that are so often dismissed in mainstream media. I offer that scene with everything I have to the audience, and I feel like it's something really beautiful. It was a gift to me, and a gift that I give."
Additionally, Ava discusses how the opening shot of Queen Sugar slowly brings the audience into the pace and tone of the show. "As a filmmaker, I am always thinking about the opening and closing image, and so for me, the opening image of Queen Sugar is a black woman's locks. Right? So you start this very macro, extreme close-up on her locks, and, you know, black women and our relationship to hair is one that's very complex and very intimate, and so that felt like the right place to start," Ava says.
"From there, that intimacy expands. You see the woman is in her bed in the morning hours when, you know, the life of the day is just awakening," Ava continues. "The intimacy expands a little more, and you see that there's someone with her, and so the idea is that that scene just continues to unfold and unfold, and it's one of the examples of pace in Queen Sugar. There was one way to do that scene where you see her, she gets up, she goes. And there's another way where you actually allow people to kind of get into her energy, her vibe, see more deeply who she is, and so that's the way that all the scenes were constructed."
Ava says those small choices have a cumulative effect, allowing the viewer to seamlessly enter the world of Queen Sugar. "The pacing of the show changes as the show evolves," she says. "It is a more leisurely pace purposefully to just let the silence speak, to allow people to live and to observe that living behavior, but it pays off because by the end of Episode 1, you are more deeply entrenched in the lives that you've just bore witness to for the last hour, and it allows you to go on the rest of the journey of the episodes just more emotionally connected to the characters."
Tune in to Queen Sugar Wednesdays at 10/9c.