Nearly none of Ava DuVernay’s much-ballyhooed all-female directing roster from the first season of Queen Sugar will be back for season two.
The reason? They’re all booked, the creator proudly declared in a conversation with Oprah Winfrey and producer Bruce Cohen at the Producers Guild of America’s Produced By conference, held Saturday afternoon on the 20th Century Fox lot.
Despite having at least one feature under their belts, most of Queen Sugar’s season-one directors had trouble getting television work until the OWN drama came along, said DuVernay. “Once you’ve done it, it opens up,” she noted, adding that a “very good” show called her two weeks ago for a female director recommendation. After spending two seconds wishing she could take the gig herself (DuVernay is busy in the editing room for A Wrinkle in Time, where she is set to show a director's cut to Disney on Sunday for the first time), she started making calls, only to find that all of the women were now working on other shows.
Still, DuVernay has found another set of female directors to helm every episode of season two, which is set to premiere June 20. We did it “because we can,” said Winfrey, an executive producer on the show (as well as, obviously, owner of the network).
Not that it’s easy. “It takes effort to find [women and people of color] for your crew,” DuVernay said. “Department heads are used to working with their people.”
For A Wrinkle in Time, DuVernay warned the heads of each department on her crew not to submit a homogenous list of hires unless they could prove they had considered others. When one attempted to persuade the director that his list consisted of the best people for the job who also all happened to be white men, DuVernay was faced with a choice. “Okay, this is a $120 million movie,” she told herself (she is the first woman of color to direct a live-action movie budgeted at more than $100 million). “Do I accept?”
Instead, she told the department head: “I believe that you’re great. You’re the head, and I believe that you can come out with a great result with a different crew, and make them great, too.”
DuVernay credited her handling of the situation to the freedom she experienced on Queen Sugar, where they occasionally had to go the extra mile to diversify the crew. OWN greenlighted more resources to bring in people who didn’t live locally, and in some cases the show helped others get into guilds and pay their membership dues.
“We’re in a space now where there’s awareness [of the need for inclusion],” said DuVernay. “Now the next level is execution.”