Queen Sugar, which is still quietly holding the title of best show on television, is one of the few series that I don’t have a single criticism of. The subtle nuances that make the show so beautiful and relevant are endless. Each week, something else impacts me on a deeper level. And since the opening of the Queen Sugar Mill in last week’s episode, I’ve felt a sense a of swelling pride towards the woman who masterminded the whole thing, Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner). Her place in the family has been full of tension, and I’ve always appreciated her tenacity. Now, that feeling has evolved into admiration. Charley is, low-key, one of my television feminist icons.
Nova (Rutina Wesley) is the obvious choice for Queen Sugar’s head feminist in charge. She is the sexually free older sister who works as a journalist and moonlights as a spiritual healer. We have her to thank for a great speech to her friends about how women don’t need to aspire to marriage and kids, or limit themselves within one race if they do, in order to be valuable. She is an outspoken activist against mass incarceration and a violent police state. But her younger sister Charley is making change in her own way.
Obviously, her high profile job as the wife and PR strategist of her NBA player husband Davis West (Timon Kyle Durrett) set her up to fund the Queen Sugar Mill. Charley has the business acumen to give the white, male millers a run for their money. However, she is also using this venture to help others. She offers Darla (Bianca Lawson) a job as her office assistant after Darla was fired from her last gig. Given that employment opportunities do not come easy to former addicts with minimal education and no job skills, Charley is doing more than favour for her nephew’s mother. She is providing an opportunity for rehabilitation and stability.
And while Nova acted against the system that locked up Charley’s son Michah (Nicholas L. Ashe) via a protest, Charley did her best to make sure he received mental health care to deal with the trauma. At least, she tried. In these moments, when she’s navigating betrayal from her estranged spouse and supporting her son who is caught up in it all, Charley has become the shining example of everyday Black feminism. Her feminism appears in her everyday interactions with her family and loved ones. Showing up to run her business everyday becomes a radical act. And she makes a statement every time she has to make a difficult decision.
Feminism is not monolithic, nor does it always come with a sign in the form of a slogan t-shirt. My experience has taught me that it is often in what people do and how they treat people that defines their commitment to women. Charley completely fits the bill.