Queen Sugar Means A Revolution In Television 

- by Neema Barnette

Queen Sugar means a revolution in television. It means decoding and re-coding the stories of Black families.  It means a game changer for women in television directing.  I'm honored to be a part of Ava’s journey with Queen Sugar and to walk in  her light.  When I made history being the first Black woman in the history of television to ever direct a sitcom & the first Black woman to get a three picture deal at a major film studio (Columbia Pictures) I had no mentors, only my sister filmmakers to help me through the many difficult times in a system who had never worked with a direct of color and a system that was basically not welcoming. 

The fact that I was able to participate in the magic of Queen Sugar with Ava and to help these talented female filmmakers gain the necessary skills to develop a career in TV was simply everything to me.  Now that I watch them ALL working actively directing TV series, I feel like a proud momma.  I feel like I did my job and met the challenge Ava assigned me. I've never heard of a TV series hiring ALL women directors until Queen Sugar.  It's historic in many, many ways.

Being on set was a total thrill every day.  The way Ava structured the series gave the women a nurturing environment.  It reminded me of my experience in the Directing Workshop for Women at AFI, of which I am a graduate. Ava allowed the directors to carry out their vision of their episode while maintaining her creative structure.

The dynamic with the director and actors was fantastic.  The actors were open to new ideas and the different styles each director brought with them. 

It was amazing to watch both the actors and directs grow with each episode. The directs became more confident and the acts more trusting. That's one of the reasons why the series is so great.  The family we formed, the love and creative energy we shared showed on the silver screen. 

Ava showed folks it was possible to do a successful series without being mean or have overseers around hovering & interfering. Warner Horizon and OWN were fantastic.  They both were encouraging and supportive.  We all wanted to do a great job not only for us and for Ava but for them because they believed in our talent and ability and were willing to try something new.  The result of all this is obvious.

How I feel about Ava:

From the time Ava began her film career I was a fan.  I loved her work, her seamless and unique storytelling.  Most of all I loved her spirit. When she began to mention the women who came before her like myself, Julie Dash and Debbie Allen, I was overwhelmed.  I honestly thought I wouldn't live to see this happen, but I did. 

When Ava started AARY, I again was so taken with her.  Independent distribution of films of color was something we in New York who were members of Black Filmmakers foundation, started by Warrington Hudlin (Reggie Hudllin’s brother) had attempted to do way back in the late 80's.  It was kind of a miracle for me to watch Ava do what she did and what she STILL does to promote women directors and balanced stories about people of color.

I am honored to support Ava who I believe is a young profit in all her work from her filmmaking to her stand for social justice. I believe Art is a mirror reflection of society and Ava has proven that time and time again with all her work. 

When Ava called me to join her in her journey on Queen Sugar, and that's just how she put it, I was numb.  I couldn't believe that this talented & amazing young filmmaker and activist had reached back to someone like me who had so many scars from my own journey that even coco butter would not heal, and asked me to be a part of her history making magic. The Queen Sugar experience is by far the most exciting and rewarding job in my career. 

Ava changed the game, changed the players and changed the face of television. 

The fact that Oprah has supported Ava, carefully carved a safe place for her to create and allowed all the rest of us to join in is groundbreaking experience is the icing on the cake. Oprah has ALWAYS been one of my She-roes and to have Queen Sugar air on a network owned by a Black woman is also historic.

I feel Queen Ava has created a movement that will keep going.  Like she says "If your dream only includes you then you're dreaming too small!"

Ava is building her own and I feel like it's better to be a Queen in your own kingdom than a slave in someone else's.  Inclusion is the new word being used instead of diversity thanks to Ava DuVernay.

Just because you are sitting at the table, that doesn't make you a diner, you have to have something on your plate to call yourself a diner. Ava DuVernay has put a lot on the plates of women and third world filmmakers and we can FINALLY call ourselves diners in the art form we love.

After completing five months on Queen Sugar I realize why I packed my bags at 25 and went from Harlem to Hollywood. I followed my dream and changed my life. I plan on being there for Ava always, watching and if she falls, we will pick her right back up and watch her continue to fly and game change in an industry she single-handedly changed by "Just doing it!"

Black History Mini Docs' Neema Barnette has boarded OWN’s new original drama series Queen Sugar, from Ava Duvernay and Warner Horizon Television, as a director and producer.

Written, directed and executive produced by Duvernay, the contemporary series is adapted from the debut novel by Natalie Baszile. It centers on Nova Bordelon (Rutina Wesley), a formidable journalist and activist based in New Orleans. Her life, and that of her brother and their extended family, undergoes significant change when her sister, Charley, returns to Louisiana from Los Angeles to help run the family sugarcane farm. Oprah Winfrey will have a recurring role on the show.

Barnette recently directed the feature Woman Thou Art Loosed On The 7th Day, starring Pam Grier, Blair Underwood, Nicole Jarbari and Sharon Leal. Barnette most recently directed episodes of BET’s Being Mary Jane last season.



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