Being Black is great. I know this from personal experience. And as nearly everyone knows, being Black in America is also not so great. In fact, for every moment of pride, joy, and resilience, there are even more traumas, injustices, and heartbreaks waiting to be permanently embedded into our identity. Any film, movie, book, or other medium that seeks to tell a story of Blackness is incomplete if it doesn’t address both sides. But for the sake of packing a punch, stories about Black people rely on dramatised versions of Black pain for maximum impact. As I was watching the second half of Queen Sugar’s sophomore season premiere, I realised that my love for the show stems from their avoidance of this trap.
Living as a Black person is hard enough. I don’t want to, nor should I have to, live through more trauma at the hands of my entertainment source. Queen Sugar is a drama, the characters face a number of personal losses and difficult decisions within their families and communities. For example in last night’s premiere, Ralph Angel takes his girlfriend and son on a date. His son Blue is playing with the doll that he carries with him everywhere. The waiter suggests that he might want to be playing with a transformer instead. There it is, a subtle moment of gender policing that too many little Black boys experience. Ralph Angel defends Blue in a subtle but firm way that makes my heart flutter. Sure, it could have been worse, but the point was still made without us having to watch homophobic violence.
After hearing about an explosion on the rig that her ex-lover Hollywood is working on, Violet panics. I immediately thought about my mother. Whenever I’m visiting home, my mother suddenly reverts back to the rules of the household when I was 16. I have to check in with her constantly to let her know that I’m okay. I can’t blame her. A small wave of fear also sets over me whenever I get an unidentified call from a Chicago area code. That’s how real the worry is. Black viewers didn’t need Hollywood to die in order to understand that. We only needed to see Aunt Vi watching the rig workers get off the bus, praying that one of them was her beloved.
There are plenty of horrific experiences and events in Black culture that could make for great television. These stories are often sensationalised for viewers who have never had to deal with the consequences in real life. I love that in making a show for Black viewers Ava Duvernay and Oprah Winfrey decided to take a softer touch. A series can be groundbreaking for its storytelling and centering of Blackness without breaking our hearts and spirits in the process.