Thursday, June 29, 2017

Ferocious 'Queen Sugar' Returns With Vital Strength and Meaningful Passages That Hit Home

Life is more complicated than ever for the Bordelon clan.
The African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA) named it best and number one television drama series. The NAACP Image Awards named it outstanding drama. 

Now award-winning Queen Sugar’s back. After the Winter (episode one directed by Kat Candler) and To Usward (episode two directed by Cheryl Dunye) provide graceful followup to continued commitment of offering television at finest authenticity. Stories are richly formed thanks to several components successfully operating together. Beautiful, focused camera lights dance around brown and black skin tones, singing harmonies in accentuating contrasts between radiance and shadows, illustrating tender portraits rarely seen. Shot exterior vignettes among succulent backdrops are as visually stunning as lush, colorful paintings hung in the walls of various interior settings. Meshell Ndegeocello's solid musical choices behind gorgeous scenes set appropriate tone for facets of emotional range. Lastly, the perfectly cast ensemble is a dream unlike any other, embodying exceptional notes of deeply manifested scripts that present the current world that we live in, especially complex histories of gritty American South.

Nova (Rutina Wesley) wants women to support the community bail fund-- a source that helps young brothers who cannot afford the outlandish bail fees.
After the Winter is an up and down roller coaster opener. The girls are hanging out, having laughs, dancing, and bonding as a close-knit sisterhood. This visible unity between Nova, Charley, and Violet seemed to deepen overnight despite the tense undercurrents of last season. The love and forgiveness is strong, undeniable, wonderful.

Last season, Ralph Angel received news (a handwritten letter from Papa Bordelon) that he is the sole heir to the farm. He has kept this huge secret from his sisters and is focused on growing soybeans. Once again, he is clashing with headstrong Charley who still has trouble taking him seriously. Charley and Ralph Angel are each other's biggest obstacles when it comes to this significant inherited land. They each have ideas, but have yet to sit down together and have a civilized discussion. Both sides have valid support from the family and the local black farmers. Remy, especially, is an asset.

Nova (Rutina Wesley), in an amazing "Unheard Voices of Louisiana" t-shirt, advocates for justice in her community.
Rutina Wesley continues to bring top notch acting class to the silver screen. She is a chameleon. We don't know where the acting begins or ends. She is Nova from the inch of her locs to the fabric of her clothing to sole of her shoes. It is her voice, breaking on a tear spoken cry that renders audience to listen. She is reason. She is purpose. We cannot deny the imperative message she passionately exhales near closing of To Usward:
"These brothers and sisters find themselves caught up in a system meant to destroy them. Falling into an abyss that has swallowed too many of our people for too long. These police officers, they're trying to intimidate us. They want us to fear them. But we're not afraid. They want us to fade away, but we won't. They want to erase our humanity. To act as if we don't exist. But these black bodies are real. We cannot allow black bodies to be simply disposed of like trash."
Charley (Dawn Lyen-Gardner) doesn't like to lose.
The Bordelons often make questionable decisions. That much is true.

Dawn Lyen-Gardner portrays Charley as a multifaceted character whose faulty ambition overrides greater good. Charley sees positive endgame of becoming a black woman sugar cane farmer. Before reaching goals, however, she sacrifices moral ethics and a burgeoning new relationship. She's not evil or vindictive, but she can come across as selfish. Her "needs" are the rights for her family. It is their right to own that property and see it thrive. Charley wants that. We want that for her too. Although her methods are at times eyebrow raising, Charley's inner struggles are tested. When she needs Davis' signature on a loan he didn't authorize (much less know about), there is a beat or two, a silence mirrored in Charley's thinking, a singular pause. She quickly scrawls his name and rests a hand on her chin, defiant in an empty room. In her eyes, rests a tiny flicker of regret.

Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe) is holding strong as an ex-convict single father finding his purpose and retaining love.
Kofi Siriboe is more than a handsome man melting hearts around the globe. He is a phenomenal actor inhibiting balances between stern determination and rustic charm, finessing Southern Hospitality accent as though he ruthlessly studied locals. Siriboe's role is complex and layered. Ralph Angel harbors an angered spirit due to circumstance, but is doing the best he can with a second chance, something rarely granted in society. He is a thoughtful, encouraging father, telling Blue in words and actions to be himself, dolls and all. His affection towards Darla as the loving boyfriend is maturing each episode, their vulnerable love conveyed convincing looks and touches. The first season showed a rough and volatile relationship filled with anguish, regret, and loss. This season is healing, the healing between man and woman, between man, woman, and their child as well as individual healing.

Most precious family unit: Ralph Angel (Kofi Siriboe), Blue (Young Artist Award winning Ethan Hutchison), and Darla (Bianca Lawson).
Don't discount secondary players also showing their hand in this full house deck of brilliant performances. Bianca Lawson has been utterly riveting as a former substance abuser, bringing such profound significance to recovering Darla-- still a work-in-progress. In a meaningful singular scene, she bared insecurities, her soft, candid delivery poised, expressing tender sensitivity that leaves soul shaken with empathy. It seems abhorrently unsympathetic when the white woman sponsor sucks out vapid energy, showing how little white people care about black suffering.

Micah (Nicholas Ashe) finds himself in a most horrific situation.
After the Winter bravely addresses "fear" of the black body, the male black body. Micah just celebrated his birthday with Charley and Kiki, enjoying his special milestone with those he loved and cared about. The world crumbles down on its ears when this ugly American shadow pulls Micah over-- in his newly gifted car no less. Although Micah has respectfully followed the white cop's instructions to a tee, the white cop ungraciously draws out his gun and aims, fingers on the trigger. It is frighteningly violent. Almost surreal in its honest depiction of police brutality. Nicholas Ashe is exceptional in these scenes, articulating Micah's wide eyed panic and trepidation as this innocent teen seemingly stares at what could have been his own untimely death. With his family desperate to find him, everything blurs in a state of pure, horrifying despair and agony. Dramatic suspense is riveting here: the missing child, the scared mother, the helpful aunt, and the remaining members of the concerned family.

To Usward relays aftermaths and consequences. Micah is withdrawn, bereft, robbed of security, left with broken shards that Charley sweeps underneath the rug. Ready to finally become divorced from Davis, she is pretending everything is fine, that she would come out victorious. When she finds out Micah wants to spend more time with Davis, which means rearranging custody, her calm demeanor flips the script, crashing into itty bitty pieces. Interestingly enough, she leaves a message for her mother and turns to Remy. In a poignant outburst of pain, Remy reveals that it is the anniversary of his wife's death.

Hollywood (Omar Dorsey) and Violet (Tina Lifford) have much to overcome.
Love has no age limit. There is no perfect love either. Every romantic pairing has hurdles to jump through, not just over. Vi and Hollywood are no exception. These two are collard greens and yams simmering in a pot together, trying to find right nuances between salty and sweet. When they reunite  no words are necessary. Love is apparent in the fierce cling, that gracious touch.

In a shocking twist, Nova has had relations with a tantalizing black barber, but of course, it "was just for fun." Heck, she even flinches away from him. Hopefully, this is building blocks for new territory, an awakened sensory for a woman who campaigns for brothers, but not necessarily forms any other kind of other intimacy with them.

The auntie/nephew hug was a beautiful tear jerker alongside that wonderful song.

What is next for Charley and Micah now that Davis will have a bigger role in his son's life? How will these flawed couples (Ralph Angel/Darla and Hollywood/Vi) strive in the midst of family turmoil? Will Charley and Remy stay professional? Will Nova let someone in? Or has Calvin ruined her heart for other men? Most importantly, will the farming succeed? Only time will tell.

Queen Sugar is telling intriguing narratives that we need to see. As the talented writers and directors keep venturing down the road to the healing of the Bordelons' clan, we are holding on tightly, treasuring each part (good and bad) of the gold paved journey.

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