OUR SETTING: A Black Family Owned Farm
In Saint Josephine, Louisiana
The first time we see the ultra dark-skinned, sexually fluid Nova Bordelon she is waking up sexy to a MeShell Ndegeochello track, "NO ONE IS FAITHFUL."
My daddy made no excuse
I believe my lies are truth
Why won't you eat what you are fed
All we in the beginning is a black body, languidly stretching. The scene expands and we see the body is a black woman, looking back over her shoulder with a slight smile. Then we find out that it was a white man she looked back at so lovingly as she got up
Yeah, I heard tires squealing as my head jerked back two inches on my neck when I saw the white guy too.He gets out of bed too and sensuously helps her to get dressed for her day.
Yeah, only women directors would think of a sexy, loving scene involving a woman getting dressed instead of undressed.
Next you find out our sister, Nova, is a Yoruba spiritual herbalist medicine woman who lives in a house that sits in the country version of "the hood" To be specific, her house in the 9th ward of New Orleans of Hurricane Katrina fame. She is down the road quite a ways from the family farm which is located in the fictional Saint Josephine.
Nova gives weed away for free to the old women who has to live with pain (sans a medical doctor and insurance?). It's not long before we also find out Nova grows enough weed to sell. A strong social justice advocate she only sells to young men who are willing to spread flyers about social justice issues having to do with black men in prison.
Then, you find out Nova is an award winning journalist too
And just when you think Nova couldn't be any more complicated, you find out the white man she's been sleeping with for years is a cop, a married one.
I was like, "Damn girl."
No one is faithful I am weak
I go astray
Forgive me for my ways
The first time we see Nova's brother, Ralph Angel Bordelon, we don't know who he is either.
We watch a young black man tell a very small light-skinned boy
holding a barbie doll to wait for him near a place where some young men are playing basketball. Before we ever hear these two characters' names we see the tenderness between them and know that they are father and son.
Ralph Angel walks across the street and seconds later he is robbing a Mom-and-Pop -sized grocery store.
Watching this on my television, my head reared back again as Ralph Angel shows the white clerk his gun.When this man-child goes back to the basketball court to get his son there are tears in his eyes. As if you couldn't guess by that scene alone, it doesn't take long to understand what's happening inside Ralph Angel's head.
First, he tries to give the money he stole to his Aunt for taking care of his son while he was in prison. He makes up some lie about somebody owed him some money when she asks where he got the money
Later the audience can see the shame coming off him in misty waves when he later offers the same money refused by his Aunt Vi to his father for taking care of his son, Blue, while he was in prison.
It's hard to tell if his father's face is judgmental or doubtful both, but he takes the money.
Ralph Angel so reminds me of the real life Latino member of THE CENTRAL PARK FIVE. Like that real life man, Ralph Angel considers himself nothing, considers himself less of a man if he cannot financially provide for himself and his child --and he is especially ashamed in front of his father.
Our society says men are nothing if they can't earn money. Therefore men will do anything to get money and be a provider "the way they are supposed to be" -- no matter what the actual circumstances are.
In this episode and in later episodes we can see how impossible the provider role has been made for Ralph Angel now that he has a record.
Seven months out of prison, Ralph Angel is trying so hard to make good and you feel for him. The audience wants Ralph Angel to succeed so much it hurts.
However you wind up being afraid for Ralph Angel, not because of outside forces -- though outside threats are there too-- but because Ralph Angel always seems on the edge of making horrendous choices for quasi-right reasons. His first emotional reaction to setback and pressure is almost always an understandable but childish anger.
He can accept "the way things the way they are supposed to be" a lot more easily than he can accept "the way things are." It is heartwarming and disturbing to watch Ralph Angel's best characteristics be his ability to feel, to cry, and to engage with his son despite having so much growing up to do himself.
It's going to be interesting to watch the women in his life continue to alternate between trying to support him, guide him, spoil him, reign him in, bolster him, and protect him.
If I've seen a more thorough examination of a black man on television, I don't remember it.
I hear voices and I can't stand to be alone
'Cause emptiness is all I have ever known
Soiled by my lust I feel no shame
No longer forsaken when they call my name
When the audience meets the final Bordelon sibling, Charlotte "Charlie" Bordelon, we notice is she significantly "high-yella," lighter skinned than her very dark-skinned brother, sister, and father. (And when I say dark-skinned, I mean I had to adjust the brightness and colors on my television set since I don't have HD)
If a white or black man had been in charge of creating QUEEN SUGAR, I'd have assumed the casting director thought the actress playing Charlie was cute. I would have thought that there was no reason for this dramatic skin color difference between Charlie, her father and her sister Nova, and her brother Ralph Angel.
And I'd have been right 9.5 times out of 10
But QUEEN SUGAR is black female feminist made
Charlie Bordelon is paler than her brother and sister for a reason. She lighter because she has a different mother. The other thing that's very "real world" about Charlie's being light-skinned, with semi-white features, is that her appearance has had an impact on her options.
Charlie Bordelon, though a super intelligent woman on her own, is super rich because she is married to a black man who is a professional basketball player.
Charlie manages her husband's career but she's still a trophy wife. And she starts to find out she's been acquired like a trophy when she is having lunch in an upscale restaurant with other light-skinned wives of basketball players . They are talking about doing a reality show when they all of them, except Charlie, get an phone alert about their basketball player husbands are involved in some sort of sex scandal.
Later it comes out these players are being accused of raping a sex worker (who is not white but lighter than all of the basketball wives, including Charlie) Charlie feels sorry for the other wives in a condescending way...until she finds out her husband, Davis, has been accused of rape too.
And when Charlie finds out...oooh baby.
Beautiful angels come to my bed
I am satisfied on their flesh I have fed
The first time we see Aunt Vi and her boyfriend Hollywood, they seem to have been together forever. It's awesome to see THE LOVE STORY in a series be focused on a sexy older couple.
Believe it or not, most all of the above is captured in the very first episode.
By episode 10, the Bordelon family's black history including slavery, Jim Crow, the Great Depression, and lynchings have all been linked together to show how they've gotten to be in the position they are in. And it's done in such a way that you get a full sense of every Black American family's story.
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You should love QUEEN SUGAR because
the story is black
the music is black
the problems are black
the family groove is black
the series is constructed using black girl magic
The story is honest and normal in ways you never get to see on television when black people are the stars. There are class and status divisions between the three siblings. Nova can speak the white "Kings English" (the spoken/broken English white people are used to) but code-switches seamlessly. Ralph Angel speaks with the slow southern version of black vernacular. And Charlie pretty much stays with the white King's English but uses black slang occasionally.
The attention to black detail is amazing. And one of the details I read about recently I find fascinating: Nova is not in QUEEN SUGAR, the book by Natalie Baszile. The Nova Bordelon character was created and inserted into the series. And Nova is the one that brings a lot of what is happening to black people in recent History (Hurricane Katrina) and right now (The New Jim Crow -- prisons for profit)
Ava DuVernay's QUEEN SUGAR lets you see into each character rather quickly by first showing them with the person they love most and/or is drawn to the most. By the end of the first show, I knew that the resolutions of their problems will be complicated because not one of the characters is totally innocent and good.
You should love Queen Sugar because all this honest blackness is coming from a book by a black woman; and a show creator that is a black woman;and being framed by the music director of the series, a black woman. And Ava DuVernay is trying to make sure all the directors are women, most of them black so far. And the series is on a black woman's network, Oprah's OWN.
|Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay (SELMA 13TH|
Again, all of this together makes QUEEN SUGAR is serious black feminist girl magic.
I love QUEEN SUGAR because of what is in front of the camera and what is behind the camera. And I love it even when I don't like what's going on. I love the Bordelons. Every last one of them has done some seriously shady sh**, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for weak but human reasons.
I could be biased, but QUEEN SUGAR feels like it's the best black thing that's been on television ever.
QUEEN SUGAR IS THE TRUTH.
I think everybody should be watching QUEEN SUGAR, especially black women. This is FUBU television for real.
SEASON 1 IS ON NETFLIX AND HULU. Watch the first episode of QUEEN SUGAR, First Things First for $1.99 at Amazon. Link is here:
SEASON 2 BEGAN ON June 20th. It's available on OWN. If you cable cutters out there don't have cable, it's likely available on SLING. And Season Two is definitely available on Amazon in SD for 24.99 .
ON A SIDE NOTE:
When I think of the fact that Ava DuVernay was offered the director's chair for THE BLACK PANTHER first, I can't help but think it'll be less than it could have been.
I can't help it. Ava shows so much emotional depth in her characters. Maybe a superhero story doesn't need much of that. But the ones I've seen --like WONDER WOMAN- could have quite a bit more
Ryan Coogler will be fine when he directs THE BLACK PANTHER. But he does not have the reputation (or likely the ability) to show the nuances of black women like Ava would have. In other words, Danai Guirira and Lupita N'yongo are in the movie. But I'm hoping they don't wind up just decorating the set.
Black men have not treated black women well in film and television. Isn't it ironic that Bill Cosby has probably done the best by bringing us Claire Huxtable.
All action and zero character development works for super hero movies, so I'm sure THE BLACK PANTHER will be good. But I'm thinking with Ava it could have been great. I think she'd have done a much better job with WONDER WOMAN too, but that's another story for another day.
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