“I think season five was pretty miraculous, first of all that it’s complete, and that I think it’s an incredible time capsule for what we all went through,” says director Lisa France about how this year’s episodes of “Queen Sugar” were reimagined to reflect the experiences of African-Americans in 2020. But “I think that we speak to everyone” who experienced hardship last year. We talked with France as part of our Gold Derby “Meet the Experts” TV directors panel. Watch our interview above.
“Queen Sugar” tells the story of the three Bordelon siblings in Louisiana and the sugarcane farm inherited from their father. The fifth season had already started shooting when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, leading to a major shakeup in the show’s story and production. “It was a very brave move that [series creator Ava DuVernay] decided, which was she wanted to write everything in real time. She wanted to encapsulate what was happening, not just with COVID, but with Black Lives Matter … and what was happening in the government.”
But it was also “scary for all of us on the ground here because we were not getting pages like you normally do. We were getting the pages in pods so we didn’t necessarily always know what was happening … so everything was literally a day at a time.” Shifting production to shoot in pods was its own challenge since it meant filming each household’s scenes across multiple episodes to limit physical contact between the actors.
Every season DuVernay handpicks a team of exclusively female directors, and in this case that included France, who was joined by Lauren Wolkstein and Cierra Glaude, and the unique production protocols during the pandemic required teamwork: “[DuVernay] handed over the show to three lesbians and said, ‘Here, hold it down,'” France explains. “As a company we dealt with everything. We dealt with COVID,” as well as the “emotional trauma” for the Black cast and crew as the series dealt with the protests against racist policing, not to mention the everyday logistical challenges of a TV series.
But “every single person on the team helped. Everybody jumped in … That’s one thing about the culture that Ava has created with this TV show. It’s a very family-oriented project, and when we lost people we went through it together. I feel like it’s really imbued in this season … We went through joy together, we lost people together, COVID, racial injustice, all of it in 10 episodes.”
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