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The panel was moderated by entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner.

by Nat Magloire, Contributor & Photographer

Last weekend the Paley Center for Media hosted PaleyFest, an annual festival that honors the years best television shows. On Saturday, March 24th the cast of OWN Network’s Queen Sugar took the Dolby Theatre stage for an entertaining and informative panel discussion. Executive produced by Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay, Queen Sugar follows the lives of three estranged siblings and their family members as they come together to breathe life into their late father’s sugar plantation.

 

The energy in the theatre was electric, described by moderator Nischelle Turner as a barbecue with “all [her] family and friends”. I could not have agreed more! The evening seemed more like an intimate gathering of friends rather than a media panel. Regardless, I was still not prepared for how lively, colorful, and dedicated the Queen Sugar fanbase would be. During the Q&A portion of the panel I prefaced my question by revealing that I started watching the show that week, and I was playfully given the nickname “Mr. One Week”. To be fair, I probably should’ve clarified that I had been binge watching the show (because watching only one episode of Queen Sugar per sitting is not only blasphemous, but practically impossible).

Audience members were oh so eager to pick the cast members’ brains.

The panel couldn’t have taken place at a better time as Queen Sugar fans had tons of questions that needed immediate answers!  When we last saw the characters on the season 2 finale, fans were left with the heavy possibility that Ralph Angel Bordelon (Kofi Siriboe) may not be the father of his adorable son, Blue Bordelon (Ethan Hutchinson). The situation is very emotional for the fans because their relationship is described as “the real love story” of the series by Ava DuVernay. Not only that, but absolutely nobody questioned Blue and Ralph Angel’s relationship. When asked about this scenario, Ava revealed that every single aspect about it is intentional (as we know, she’s a genius) and noted that it speaks to the power of love and the true definition of family, saying that “you can make the love so deep and robust that it’s undeniable.”

 

Character Remy Newell (played by Dondre Whitfield) quickly became a fan favorite in the shows premiere season due to his kind heart and Southern gentleman persona. His character is very healing for Charley Bordelon West (Dawn-Lyen Gardner) after a cheating scandal splatters itself across her life and the news. An audience member asked Dondre if there is a specific inspiration behind the portrayal of his character, and his reply was absolutely beautiful. Whitfield said that he draws inspiration for Remy from his mother and grandmother, who he saw “suffer in relationships”. He sees Remy as his way of paying homage to them, like a gift. Needless to say his answer was received positively by the audience.

Dondre Whitfield was an absolute hit with the Queen Sugar fans.
An fan snaps a picture with Dawn-Lyen Gardner.

Another topic discussed was Ava DuVernay’s continuous dedication to inclusive programming that reflects the world we live in. She hired Kat Candler as the showrunner for the shows third season after her impressive camerawork in the first and second seasons. This was great news because as a visual artist myself,  I find many of the shots in Queen Sugar to be absolutely immaculate. This is also important for women filmmakers, as they face far more barriers in the industry, to which Candler can attest. Ava providing opportunities to marginalized creatives proves that talent doesn’t have one look, and that regardless of where someone comes from, if they properly utilize their talent they can knock any project out of the park! The night was truly magical, and I am so thankful for the opportunity to have listened to such a dynamic group of individuals who were seamlessly able to create a program that so many people can relate to.

Bianca Lawson (Darla) at PaleyFest 2018.

Ava dropped some wisdom that night that has stayed with me since. She said that if you find a door that is closed, absolutely do not hesitate to “build your own door”. Season three of Queen Sugar premiered on Tuesday, March 30th on OWN. If you would like to catch up, season one can be found on Hulu