Ava DuVernay, Oprah Winfrey "Proud" of 'Queen Sugar's' Female Director Legacy

Mark Davis-SilverHub/Courtesy of OWN
From left: Oprah Winfrey, Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Kofi Siriboe, Ava DuVernay

"I always say if 'Game of Thrones' can have three seasons of all male directors, why can't we have three seasons of all women directors?" said DuVernay.

"We're in our second season, another season of all women directors and proud that other shows have followed suit," Queen Sugar creator and executive producer Ava DuVernay said Tuesday night at the show's press event held at the Four Seasons Los Angeles.

DuVernay, alongside stars Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Kofi Siriboe and executive producer Oprah Winfrey, discussed the upcoming second season and how they have worked to not only create a series that explores contemporary and cultural contexts, but finds a new path for female directors in Hollywood.

As with their first season, the second season of Queen Sugar will have an all-female directorial team, paving the way for helmers new to television.

"I always say if Game of Thrones can have three seasons of all male directors, why can't we have three seasons of all women directors?" said DuVernay. "If they can do it, why can't we do it? We're going to center women, because we can and we want to and we're at a network owned by a woman, so it makes it easier."

This season, Katt Candler, DeMane Davis, Cheryl Dunye, Aurora Guerrero and Amanda Marsalis will join the list of female directors on Queen Sugar

"All of the women from our season one, every single woman has gone on to be heavily booked. I got a call from a really well-known television show just last week, asking, 'We had someone drop out as a director — can you refer us to one of your season one directors?' I got on the phone and tried — none of the season one directors are available," explained DuVernay.

At the Cannes Film Festival, Jessica Chastain publicly expressed her disappointment in the representation of female characters onscreen. DuVernay praised the actress' defense and expressed hope that something like Queen Sugar is the representation Chastain was urging to see.

"I was proud of her for speaking out at an international space, where it was obviously an intimidating environment," said DuVernay. "I was even proud of the fact that we stand as one of the very rare examples of the exact opposite of what she’s talking about."

DuVernay referred to the Bechdel Test, adding that the show's team likes to make sure two women have a conversation that is not about a man (one of the parameters of the test).

"Over 93 percent of movies and television shows in this country, up through the beginning of 2017, did not pass the test and had one scene where two women have a conversation about themselves or about anything that they have in their mind that does not include interaction with a man," explained DuVernay. "That's something that we try to change. Every episode of Queen Sugar has a scene that passes Bechdel, and every film I've done so far has had a scene that passed Bechdel, including Selma, which was about a man."

Speaking of female directors, DuVernay said she got emotional seeing Patty Jenkins' name listed onscreen as the helmer of the recent blockbuster film Wonder Woman. She further added that the various scenes throughout the film portraying equality and minority representation were a landmark to see for those truly looking.

"Some of these, where you unpack issues of sexuality and gender politics, it was a way to do that with a real intention. It was like, 'I'm coming from a place of equity, that colored the whole thing," said DuVernay. "It didn't feel wrong and if you weren't looking for it you wouldn't have even felt it, but if you were looking for it, you saw something and you saw yourself, and that was a beautiful example of what Hollywood can be, and that's what happens when you let women behind a camera."

Winfrey said she is proud of Queen Sugar's ability to finesse representation and equality that is needed onscreen, and that she relies on her trust in DuVernay's decisions and visions for the critically acclaimed show.

"One of my great gifts is that I am smart enough to surround myself with people who are smarter than I am. So I trust her, I believe in her. I believe in her vision," said Winfrey of DuVernay.

For the show's second season, Monica Macer, a former co-executive producer on Nashville, will take over as executive producer and showrunner for the contemporary drama. "I believe in the vision we originally set for the series, so when she [DuVernay] calls me up ... I just go, 'OK!' I usually don't have a lot of questions," said Winfrey.

On Macer’s new role, DuVernay said, "It's hard to hand your baby off, but it's easier when it’s family. Sometimes you gotta hand the baby off to family and say 'take care of it,' so that's what we've done."

DuVernay is next slated to direct the film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, once again teaming with Winfrey, who will star in the film. Although Queen Sugar's reins are being passed to Macer, DuVernay will continue to stay heavily involved in the show.

"I'm approving the scripts and approving all the casting, but I really get my hands into the edit, so Oprah allows me to have the final cut on the episodes. So, the final thing that you see on the air is a collaboration of our vision for it," said DuVernay.

Queen Sugar returns to OWN with a two-part premiere on Tuesday, June 20, and Wednesday, June 21, at 10 p.m. ET/PT. 

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