It’s been a busy five years for Ava DuVernay. Since winning the Best Director Award at Sundance Film Festival in 2012, she has accrued many “firsts”: becoming the first black female director to have a movie (Selma) nominated for a Best Picture Oscar, to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award, and now to helm a film with a $100 million budget (Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time). DuVernay’s work goes beyond feature movies, to include 13th, the award-winning documentary on mass incarceration, a forthcoming Netflix limited series about the Central Park Five, and a TV and digital-media deal with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films.
Though DuVernay is juggling projects across different platforms, she tends to focus on history and injustice. Perhaps none of her works better melds experimentation and realism than the television drama Queen Sugar, which aired its emotional mid-season finale on Wednesday. The Louisiana-set series follows the Bordelon siblings—Nova, Charley, and Ralph Angel—as they work to take care of the sugarcane farm they inherited from their father and debate whether the land is more of a burden or a chance for a fresh start. The show also touches on issues such as incarceration, police abuse, class, and the legacy of slavery as it persists in the South. In the latest episode “Freedom’s Plow,” the siblings are still reeling from the recent discovery that their father bequeathed the farm solely to Ralph Angel, instead of all three children. In subtle ways, the Bordelons are testing whether they can overcome the fractures in their relationships—or whether those divides will calcify in the absence of a common goal.