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Ava DuVernay on the Unconventional Romance Between a White Cop and a Black Activist

Season 1 Episode 105
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Queen Sugar defies stereotypes in many ways. One of the most unconventional aspects of the show is the romance between Black Lives Matter activist Nova Bordelon and Calvin, a white police officer. Ava DuVernay, the creator of Queen Sugar, explains how Calvin challenges Nova, and in Episode 5, "By Any Chance," you see the conflict come to the surface.

"Ooh, Nova and Calvin. In thinking about who Nova was, I thought, 'What would be something that allows us to see her really, you know, pushed to her limits?' So, of course, you know, I had to give her a white cop," Ava says, smiling.

"She is a Black Lives Matter activist and journalist around issues of race, and a healer, and I like that contrast," Ava says. "I like that conflict. I like that she's struggling with that, because it's not just a sweeping romance. There's a lot of social mores tied up into why they're good for each other and why they might not be good for each other, and yet, at the heart of it, there's love within the relationship."

Even so, Ava says, the characters' occupations put them on a collision course. "In this episode, Calvin and Nova's relationship really comes to a head. What they do for a living starts to invade their relationship to a point where they can no longer deny it. They can no longer go in her beautiful house and close the door and just be together," Ava says. "The outside has come in."

Additionally, "By Any Chance" delves deep into the issue of sexual consent in the Charley and Davis storyline. "We wanted to get into this issue of rape and exploring the matter of consent, that there is a moment of consent that is always present, and if it's not present, it's absent, and that means no," Ava says. "We wanted to try to frame it in a storyline that felt emotionally resonant but that also really started to peel back the layers. As the storyline goes on, we're basically asking the audience to challenge their notions of what consent is, and we frame it in the character of Davis because there's so much privilege that goes along with the idea of who's guilty and who's not guilty."

Ava maintains that examining such a complex issue requires fully developed, complex characters. "You know, it's really hard for us to call our heroes guilty because we put them on a pedestal. So, yeah, this is a really complicated storyline, and Charley is not handling it as a stock character," Ava says. "In the right way, at every point, she interacts with the issue. She's dealing with it as a human being would. It will be interesting to watch as she learns more about that night and her own preconceived notions about what this is are challenged, and hopefully it sparks conversation and dialogue."

Finally, Ava praises Victoria Mahoney, the woman who helmed Episode 5. "A sister named Victoria Mahoney directed this episode," she says. "I smile when I think about her because she's really one of a kind. She's a firecracker. Victoria brings her whole self to it. This is one of my favorite episodes. I thought she just did some beautiful things with camera and cinematography."

Ava stresses that Victoria's involvement highlights the larger mission of the series. "This is a woman who had made a beautiful film, and no one would hire her to direct an episode of television," Ava says. "It's wrong. It's something that Queen Sugar tried to be a part of fixing the solution to. Now all of them are killing it, and she's leading the charge. Victoria Mahoney. Look her up. Remember the name."
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