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After the lights came up following the Los Angeles premiere of Queen Sugar‘s first episode, the audience was greeted with a sight not commonly seen at Hollywood screenings: a stage full of cast and crew, the majority of whom were women and/or people of color.
“There’s no reason for anyone in the industry to say you can’t [have an inclusive crew],” said the series’ creator and executive producer Ava DuVernay. “We did it, and it really works!”
The Selma director was in great spirits as she, fellow executive producer Oprah Winfrey and the show’s cast and crew celebrated the premiere of their new drama Monday on the Warner Bros. lot. The series, which follows three estranged adult siblings forced to come together to save the family’s Louisiana sugarcane farm, will bow Sept. 6 on OWN.
“When I first dreamed of creating a network, this was the vision I had in mind,” said Winfrey, noting that Queen Sugar uses an inclusive cast to showcase people of color and demonstrate their sense of hope, community and inspiration. “To those who said it could never be done, I say, ‘Never count me out.'”
On the red carpet, DuVernay and Winfrey declined to comment on the controversy surrounding The Birth of a Nation filmmaker Nate Parker. Both women had praised Parker’s Sundance drama before revelations regarding his 2001 rape allegations became widely known.
Queen Sugar is based on a 2014 novel by Natalie Baszile. True Blood alum Rutina Wesley, who plays journalist (and pot dealer) Nova, said that she likens her character (the righteous reporter aspect of it) to Mark Ruffalo’s in Spotlight. Meanwhile, her TV brother, Kofi Siriboe, said that playing single dad Ralph Angel, who at the series’ outset is six months out of prison, was an opportunity to transcend stereotypes.
“Instead of the clichés that surround incarcerated men, I wanted to focus on him being a man,” said the actor. “I wanted to show emotion, vulnerability, sensitivity and sensuality.”
After the screening, guests dined on a New Orleans-inspired menu, including jambalaya, vegetarian gumbo and fresh beignets deep-fried on the spot. Guests included Niecy Nash, Atlanta‘s Keith Stanfield and Roots‘ Emyatzy Corinealdi, star of DuVernay’s 2012 feature Middle of Nowhere.
“Who gets this?” DuVernay said, trying to hold back her emotion on a night that saw her entire family in attendance. “The opportunity for a black woman to tell a story about family and identity, and to take time with the scenes. When you work for a network operated by an artist and a friend, you get that. It’s a gift that words can’t describe.”
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