Queen Sugar is a TV drama series on the Oprah Winfrey Network based on the 2014 novel by Natalie Baszile (all four seasons presently streaming on Hulu). It follows the saga of the Bordelons, a Black family in south Louisiana who take on the challenges of running their father’s sugarcane farm after his death. The show was created by award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma, 13th, etc.), who’s not only directed and written a number of episodes, but also hired an all-female slate of directors for the show’s first season. The earwormy theme and soundtrack in general are by Me’Shell Ndegeocello.
The story generally centers on the trio of siblings forcibly thrown together by family trauma and financial necessity: Nova (Rutina Wesley), a journalist and activist living in New Orleans, Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), a successful businesswoman and sports manager living in Los Angeles, and Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), a former convict trying to sort out post-incarceration life in fictional St. Josephine Parish (based, as far as I can tell, on St. John the Baptist Parish just upriver from NOLA).
Though struggles over the farm and family relationships dominate the show, there are plenty of storylines incorporating the wider world. Racist oppression and violence certainly have many depressing opportunities to take center stage (both in obvious personal and more sinister structural ways), but it’s hardly all doom and gloom; the Bordelons’ strength despite their differences is central to the show, and the chemistry between the cast really does make it feel like a real life family.
The fifth season’ll come out this year; I’ve been running through it partly because Hulu looms as the lowest-hanging fruit on my streaming prune for the winter, but there’s also a bittersweet kind of personal nostalgia therein. As a white Louisiana native who’s been living in the Midwest now for over twenty years, it’s really affecting at times not just to watch the Bordelons’ struggles, but also to get a vivid reminder of an environment that was and wasn’t mine at the same time. Growing up in old suburban Baton Rouge with my main family background identification as Irish Channel New Orleans, it feels familiar and unknowable all at once, and I wish I’d had a better awareness of these places and people back when I still lived (relatively) nearby.
Hope everyone has a good day today.