*Award-winning filmmaker Ava DuVernay (“Selma”) brings her cinematic prowess to Natalie’s Baszile’s novel “Queen Sugar.” Executive produced by her newly minted BFF Oprah Winfrey, the 13-episode series premiered September 6th on OWN.
The contemporary drama is set to deftly explore the African-American experience through the lives of the estranged Bordelon siblings in Saint Josephine, Louisiana: Nova (Rutina Wesley, “True Blood”), a streetwise journalist and activist; Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner, “Unforgettable”), the highly intelligent, accomplished wife and manager of a professional basketball star; and Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe, “Awkward”), a formerly incarcerated young father in search of redemption.
At the L.A. premiere of “Queen Sugar” media mogul, Oprah Winfrey did not hide her excitement for her latest program:
”This is the kind of storytelling I dreamed of doing when I left the “Oprah Show.” To take stories involving people of color, black people, who are just regular normal people, with values, who went to church, who made mistakes, who’ve done things they’ve regretted, who were building a life and in spite of whatever difficulties they had or challenges, you see a value system. Everyone I know who is black, grew up with these people. I wanted to create a show that felt like home, but yet had the drama, the sensuality, the poetry, the sexiness, and the lyricism that elevates ourselves.”
The series manages to draw upon every universal aspect of human pathos successfully; love, loss, betrayal, sibling rivalry, past grievances, forgiveness, post-incarceration, sexual abuse, sexuality, and corruption.
The story begins with the Bordelon family coming together after experiencing a personal tragedy and must embark together on the joys and sorrows that surround their sibling bond while contemplating the outcome of father’s failing sugarcane farm. The television series was shot mostly in New Orleans and Timon (sounds like lemon) Kyle Durrett (“Single Ladies”) plays embattled professional basketball star Davis West and Charley’s husband. Timon felt by shooting the family drama on location it added to the authenticity of the show, “Smelling the scent of all the delicious food, breathing in the sweet air, and dealing with the heat added the texture to the story.”
Between Ava and Oprah, both are venerable champion members of black girl magic, not only did Ava create and alongside Oprah, executive produce “Queen Sugar”, she also directed the first two episodes and involved a team of women directors in overseeing the rest of the series’ debut episodic season.
Standing at an astounding 6’5, when asked how did he felt being surrounded by so much creative power and female empowerment; Timon appreciatively replied, “I felt like a king. It is a point in history that we should not lose sight of, these women came and brought something to the table that most have not and many could not.”
He goes on to say, “Having Oprah and Ava, two moguls, icons, and superheroes at the helm, I’m very honored, privileged, and happy. My elation cannot be quantified.” While basking in the estrogen laden set, Timon believes that by having an all-female directorial team for “Queen Sugar” he was privy to a more balanced structure, a distinctive style of storytelling, and astute introspection to details that he had not experience before.
“They all have different styles and [views] that helped me to grow as an actor. It’s cool to have a female director because you can have the male and female dynamic so you can come to a place where it’s not just one-sided,” says Timon.
By no means will audiences be given a biased view on any of the characters; they all are relevant, dynamic, well developed and layered characters in all their dimensions, flaws and all. Under Ava’s direction, the actors were able to pull out the depths of their character; Timon credits not only Ava but his co-stars Dawn-Lyen Gardner and Nicholas L. Ashe, who plays his son Micah West, with helping him step up his performance.
“In my opinion, these are incredibly talented, passionate, and driven people. Nicholas Ashe is beyond his years, and he’s only 21 years old, but he has the demeanor and wisdom of a man 20 years his senior. Dawn has this refined, pristine thing about her and when I am on camera with her, she makes you want to elevate yourself. Ava has the same regal quality,” praises Timon of his on-screen family members who have to deal with a snag in their family quilt.
Timon’s portrayal of Davis West, the star MVP basketball player of the L.A. Gladiators who suffers an avoidable career blunder is a path that is all too familiar to him.
“I played a little bit of college ball, and I got to see first-hand how athletes at the time, I was a student-athlete not a professional, but how they are put on a pedestal. There are expectations coupled with certain temptations that can be difficult to navigate especially as a young man. You’re on a stage, people are watching you, the crowd is cheering for you, and sometimes that can puff you up with pride. Then to fall short of the expectations, it will bring you back down and humble you. Those are things I drew from my life because I’ve had my share of meeting and not meeting those expectations and falling into temptations that later on found to be less than desirable,” he candidly reveals.
In truth, some of Davis West’s qualities emerged from the many life experiences of Timon, and he defends that his character is not a villain; he has some redeeming qualities despite his fall from grace.
“Davis West is not a great guy or a horrible person, but he is not an angel. [He] is a man in a position that many men wish they could be and at the same time many men wish they were not in. It is so real to life that I think everyone is going to have multiple ideas about Davis. You are going to love him, hate, and forgive him or even hold a grudge,” he explains. The controversy that envelope Davis West’s complicated life, in words of Timon, is germane to the robust nature of this work. He relishes in the convoluted premise of the drama becomes he assures viewers will be engaged in the complexity of West’s personal storms, his struggles and will eventually see his human rawness. “I cannot wait for the world to see what these wonderful people have put together. You will be moved spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically. There aren’t enough adjectives to convey my message clearly to get you to understand how wonderful it was working on this series; it was a dream come true for me.” The same dream extends to the African-American audiences who have long challenged Hollywood for real and truthful stories of their lives. “Queen Sugar” obliges their plea with a beautiful spread of heart and soul.
Be sure to check it out for another episode tonight, Wednesday, September 7 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, and will regularly air Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. ET/PT for the remainder of its 13-episode first season.
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