AFI Movie Club: QUEEN SUGAR – American Film Institute
Queen Sugar Film Still - Dawn-Lyen Gardner, Rutina Wesley, and Kofi Siriboe



Created by Ava DuVernay and executive produced by Oprah Winfrey, QUEEN SUGAR is a groundbreaking television series about a trio of siblings who attempt to run their family’s sugarcane farm in rural Louisiana after tragedy strikes. Hailed for its inclusivity onscreen and off, the show features the directing talents of AFI Conservatory alumni Neema Barnette (AFI DWW Class of 1982), Julie Dash (AFI Class of 1974) and Shaz Bennett (AFI DWW Class of 2012).

Watch Blair Underwood announce QUEEN SUGAR for AFI Movie Club.

Behind the Scene: AFI DWW alumna Neema Barnette on QUEEN SUGAR


DID YOU KNOW? QUEEN SUGAR is adapted from a debut novel by author Natalie Baszile. She said she was inspired to write the book because, “I was not seeing books by African American authors that reflected my experience. Part of my desire in writing ‘Queen Sugar’ was to say, we are a rich people, a complicated people, and a diverse people, and a whole people. We have families and relationships and trials and struggles, but we also have triumphs.”

DID YOU KNOW? Writer Natalie Baszile first caught the attention of Leigh Haber, the books editor at O magazine, who asked Baszile to send her an advanced copy of the finished manuscript for “Queen Sugar.” After the book’s release in 2014, Baszile received exciting news that Harpo, Oprah Winfrey’s production company, wanted to option the book.

DID YOU KNOW? QUEEN SUGAR broke boundaries when its creative team hired an all-women directing team for each of its four seasons. Showrunner Ava DuVernay said, “When you run the show and you talk about inclusivity…and you get a chance to…make the hiring decisions and the studio and the network are looking to you for guidance on what to do, or direction, or ideas. … You know, I found myself in a position to actually try to effect some real change.”

DID YOU KNOW? QUEEN SUGAR is a reunion for Ava DuVernay and Oprah Winfrey. They previously collaborated on the film SELMA, which premiered at AFI FEST 2014 presented by Audi and went on to earn a nomination for Best Picture and win the Oscar® for Best Original Song (“Glory”).

 DID YOU KNOW? Director and producer Neema Barnette is the first Black woman ever to direct an episode of sitcom television and the first to earn a production deal from a major studio. QUEEN SUGAR creator Ava DuVernay has looked to Barnette as a leader and mentor for emerging directors on set. Barnette said, “When Ava said, ‘I stand because they stood,’ I can’t tell you what that meant to me…I never thought I’d see a day that someone like Ava, who stood for what she stands for, would have the power to make something like QUEEN SUGAR….It’s incredible. It gives me such hope for the future.”

DID YOU KNOW? Rutina Wesley and Dawn-Lyen Gardner, who play Nova Bordelon and Charlotte “Charley” Bordelon West respectively on QUEEN SUGAR, actually trained together as actors at Juilliard. They shared the stage in a student production of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf.”

Click Here to Find Out How to Watch QUEEN SUGAR Now

QUEEN SUGAR – Reelgood


The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

  • How does the television series adaptation differ from Natalie Baszile’s original novel?
  • Which sibling do you identify with the most and why?
  • How does Louisiana serve as a backdrop for the series?
  • In what ways does the series tackles subjects including racism, police brutality, addiction and LGBTQ issues?
  • How is QUEEN SUGAR revolutionary for its inclusivity in front of the camera and behind the scenes?
  • How is this series culturally specific and how is it universal in its depiction of a family?
  • How does it expand the canon of complex and nuanced Black storytelling?
  • How would you rate QUEEN SUGAR?


AFI has created a global, virtual gathering of those who love the movies. See all of the titles programmed for AFI Movie Club here. Each day’s film is accompanied by fun facts, family-friendly discussion points and material from the AFI Archive to enrich your viewing experience. Learn more in our FAQ section.

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