Has Nova gone too far this time?
By the looks of the trailer for the upcoming season of Queen Sugar, everybody and their mama... and sister… and brother... and aunt... and nephew and… well, you get the picture, is hot as fish grease because of Nova! It all has to do with the fact that Nova fulfilled her dream and wrote what turned out to be a best-selling book. It isn’t jealousy that’s raising everyone's ire though. Nova has written a memoir and the events that she discusses encompass not just her life, but everyone else's as well. She has committed the cardinal sin of airing her family’s dirty laundry for the whole entire world to see. She may win the Image Award for Best Book of The Year, but at what price?
At a recent luncheon in the heart of New York City, Queen Sugar’s Kofi Siriboe (Ralph Angel), Dawn-Lyen Gardner (Charley), and Rutina Wesley, who plays Nova, sat down with the press to talk about their experiences on the show, how being on the show for the past three years has impacted them, and a little bit about what viewers can expect when this season starts on June 12th.
Wesley, when asked her own feelings about the impact of telling deep-dark family secrets, commented, “It’s a fine line in telling someone’s truth and sort of forcing them into that process at a time when maybe they’re not ready to. For Nova, in her heart, her intentions are good. She really thinks this book can reach the community and maybe help others, but I don’t know if she totally thinks through the reactions that her family may have.”
Gardner added that Nova this season symbolizes something much greater. “In the Black community generally, the conversation around secrets and the resistance to dealing with, and airing what we are dealing with, it’s an important thing to push and I think that’s a big part of what Nova represents in this storyline. She’s that force asking us to redefine our values.”
We’ve all heard stories of family members who fall out for years. Heck, some of us are on one end of the falling, so it’s sure to resonate with viewers when Queen Sugar’s characters this season appear to be embarrassed or humiliated by the things that Nova includes in her book.
Near the end of last season, Nova confessed to Charley that she and Remy (Charley’s ex) had grown very, very close emotionally, and not sister/brother close either! Asked if any of the fallout from that would be explored this season, Gardner explained, ”I think it provokes honest conversations about these situations. It’s provoking honest inquiry about why we react the way we react. What was interesting to me is that we didn’t see Charley respond. She responded with silence which clued me in to how deep it went and how deep there was a sense of betrayal." She went on, “It speaks to exactly what this season is designed to test, which is the bonds of family and the limits of loyalty.”
On this topic, Wesley offered, “We’ll unpack it. Some people look at it like, 'That’s your sister’s ex, you don’t!' Some people are like, 'Well they never had a relationship physically, it was emotional so it’s okay.' It’s not an easy answer. In my head, I’m like, 'they just kissed,' but for some people that is enough of a betrayal. I guess you will finally get to see how Charley feels about all of it.”
Siriboe got vulnerable at the luncheon, revealing that playing the role of Ralph Angel has brought some challenges. He shared, “Twenty-seventeen was one of the hardest years of my life. Just adjusting to the fame and this new identity. I had to relinquish Kofi. That space felt like it was infiltrated and I also had to deal with the fact that I made that choice. That’s a lot to navigate and to unpack, especially when you have the world watching you… You realize how much brokenness and trauma there is that needs to be mended, and that’s a hard realization.”
Gardner opened up about her own surprising challenges as well. “Seasons one through three were tough. I was struggling. They are asking us to deep dive into ourselves to tell the truth about what we’ve seen and witnessed in our communities and what those circumstances do to people. For me, it’s lived in my body… It’s required me to pay attention to my own self-care and my own mental health. After season one, two, and three, I did nothing. I did as much self-care as I could.”
Attendees also learned more of Siriboe’s somewhat mixed feelings about fame and being part of the show. “There’s all these opportunities, there’s all these propositions, but for me, it’s about giving myself license to explore myself, to discover the world, to do nothing. To not feel pressure to have to live up to Queen Sugar’s allure, live up to Ava’s intensity, live up to Oprah’s magnificence!”
Productively dealing with all of this means he gives himself permission to explore what his passions are. “For me,” Siriboe said, "that looks like music, that looks like photography, that looks like writing. It’s land, space, traveling.”
Wesley shared that she is careful about how she approaches self-care. “For me self-care starts from the mental because if you’ve never known how to take care of yourself from here,” she said, gesturing toward her head, “you’ll never know how. You have to change your thinking.”
Of course, Gardner’s character Charley is the owner of a sugar mill at a time when in real life, Black women entrepreneurs are at an all-time high. Wesley’s Nova is a journalist and author at a time when we routinely hear the phrases “fake news” and utterances about the press being “the enemy of the people.” The two ladies touched on how important their characters’ careers are at this time in history.
Wesley said, “The beautiful part for me is the women who I meet who are Nova in real life. When someone looks you in the eye and says 'I see myself in you and also thank you for playing the truth!' Meeting these women in real life further lets me know it’s my responsibility to play her in the most truthful way, the rawest way possible. The more women can recognize something in themselves in my work, the more I feel like I can directly affect somebody’s life and if I can affect just one person, that’s enough for me.”
Gardner commented, “Yes, as Charley, it’s been an extraordinary privilege to be portraying a powerful, complicated, vulnerable, fragile, unstoppable woman who is constantly putting herself in fields that weren’t built for her. She’s not even redefining them, she’s forcing them to shift their walls too. That has been amazing. It has also been my own education.”
Be sure to catch the season 4 premiere of Queen Sugar on June 12 9 pm EST on OWN!