How Oprah Got Ava DuVernay to Make ‘Queen Sugar’

From the opening scene you know Queen Sugar is going to be something special. It fades in on beautiful black ropes of perfectly locked hair, cascading down an almond-colored woman’s velvety back. The camera takes its time opening this wonderfully told story with visuals that suck you in from first view.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay and media mogul Oprah Winfrey partnered on the series, which will premiere on OWN on September 6. Based on the 2014 Natalie Baszile novel, Queen Sugar follows the complicated lives of the Bordelon siblings, who inherit a sugar cane farm in New Orleans.

It was Winfrey who convinced DuVernay to take on the project after a girl’s trip in Hawaii. She gave DuVernay the novel and told her she had to read it. And when Oprah says something, you listen.

After the Selma director breezed through the book in two days, DuVernay wrote a treatment, which developed into a series featuring an all-female line-up of directors, and a writer’s room, film and production crew rich with diversity.

During Monday night’s Oprah Winfrey Network Queen Sugar premiere at Warner Bros. Studios, DuVernay celebrated the cast and crew, bringing them all on stage, along with Oprah, her producing partner.

Fighting back tears, DuVernay took a moment to speak about the experience of bringing Queen Sugar to life.

“Who gets this? Who gets the opportunity, a woman, a Black woman, to tell a story about family, legacy and identity? To take the time with the scenes. So often I hear colleagues talking about the ‘fast cut’ and talking about trying to ‘cram it in.’ But when you work for a network that’s owned and operated by an artist and a friend you get to take your time,” DuVernay said.

For Oprah, the night was a celebration. Visibly proud of the project, two years in the making, she wore it like a jewel in the Oprah Winfrey Network crown. Before allowing the audience to screen the premiere, Oprah had a “mic drop” moment, saying in her oh-so familiarly soothing voice, “I just want you to see the series. It speaks for itself. There are no adjectives to describe what it means to me to come to this point in the development of the network. For all the people who said it couldn’t be done I would just say never count me out.”

Watch the extended Queen Sugar trailer below.

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