The drama series premiered last September as the #1 new ad-supported cable series for women 25-54 and the #1 new cable series for African-American women and total viewers during the run. Additionally, season one averaged over 2.7 million total viewers.
Created by Ava Duvernay, “Queen Sugar” returned with a two-night event last week, and this season follows the Bordelon siblings’ struggle to move forward with their lives as they strive to honor the legacy of their father following his unexpected passing.
Rutina Wesley (Nova Bordelon), Dawn-Lyen Gardner (Charley Bordelon West) and Kofi Siriboe (Ralph Angel Bordelon) star as the Bordelon siblings, and the cast also includes Lifford as the siblings’ free-spirited Aunt Violet and Omar J. Dorsey as Violet’s much younger boyfriend Hollywood.
Viewers watched Hollywood and Vi’s dramatic breakup at the end of season one, and Lifford tells us that the “hope of love” which is represented by the couple will continue to resonate with fans this season.
Lifford has appeared in a number of notable feature films, such as “Grand Canyon,” “Colors,” “Pay It Forward” and “Hostage.” She has guest-starred on more than 25 television series, and she’s the author of the book “The Little Book of BIG LIES: and TRUTHS That Set You Free.”
Additionally, she is the founder of Tina Lifford’s Inner Fitness Project, an inner health and well-being movement that strives to help people powerfully navigate pain, disappointments and personal challenges.
Check out our conversation with Tina Lifford below.
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What do you attribute to the jolting success of Queen Sugar?
Tina: I believe people are hungry for a truth that they can relate to. Hungry to see themselves in ways that they relate to and hungry for feelings. And I think what Ava Duvernay and Oprah have done with Queen Sugar is to deliver the importance of people being able to see themselves packaged with the importance of the issues that people are literally facing in their lives right this moment. And between those two things, we don’t need any car chases or bombs or any of that other more sensational entertainment because life is sensational enough and Ava is brilliant at letting people experience the extraordinary nature of being a simple human being.
What was it about this role that intrigued you to want to be a part of this show?
Tina: I said yes to Oprah Winfrey. I said yes to Ava. I said yes to Oprah because I have watched her for thirty years build a brand that is about important things. Build a brand that aligns with the things that are important in my life. So if there is some way I can bring value, and that’s one of my core desires, to bring value wherever I go. If infact I can bring value to such a valuable mission then I would be living my life in alignment with what’s important to me.
I said yes to Ava because you can not watch the filmmaking and the speed with which her storytelling has catapulted her to the top and not want to honor that and trust that-that is going to be more than just a sensational storytelling opportunity. But we’re going to get into the woods of it — the thick of it and tell some truth, some hard truth. And again, telling the truth is part of my personal brand. So that’s what I said yes to.
I said yes to Violet because how often do you get to see this woman on television? I don’t know. You tell me when you have seen this auntie archetype on television.
Are the stakes higher for Violet this season, and what can us tell us about her dynamic with Hollywood?
Tina: With all that we delivered in that first episode, the hope of love which is represented by Violet and Hollywood is so strong and so compelling. I think that’s a beautiful statement.
So here’s what I can tell you about Hollywood and Vi. In that first episode you saw Vi hold her breath hoping, wishing that Hollywood would pick up and you saw what happened when he didn’t and later in the episode you saw what happened and how her entire body relaxed when he did. So I think we’re going to have to explore that.
There are elements and themes of this series that remind me of the passion that fuels activism. In what ways do you think Queen Sugar can inspire young activists today?
Tina: Just the idea that we are present. That we are on a network television show. That millions of people are tuning in. The fact that those millions of people are seeing themselves makes every single one of us, when it comes to people of color, more relevant. It makes every single one ot us more powerful. Because when we are seen and given a presence and we can see ourselves we are emboldened by that. And I think that Queen Sugar and its brilliant storytelling also ignites, not just conversation, but it ignites personal inquiry.
So the question you just asked is a question I encourage your (readers) to ask, which is, how can Queen Sugar make me more of an activist? How can Queen Sugar make me more present in my family? How can Queen Sugar make me better at this thing called the dance of love? I think anyone watching can choose any one of our characters and ask the question, “What is the best thing that I can do in my life to deal with this area of my life?
How much of your own personality is embeded in Violet?
Tina: I would say you’re definitely seeing facets of my mother and facets of the aunties. Those that are blood aunties and those that are cultural, archetypal idea of auntie. You are definitely seeing a completion of all of these rich, wonderful exciting women that I have seen and admired and learned from both in good ways and learning from their mistakes, over my lifetime. So in that way you are experience part of me. I would say that Tina Lifford and Violet definitely share a compassionate heart. Tina Lifford is interested in people and humanity. Violet is interested in her family. And so the passion with which we both have that interest in the other hers is specific to family, mine is more extended to humanity in general.
What’s been most rewarding about working with this amazing cast and all-star team of female directors?
Tina: The message of possibility, and it being a new day that this entire experience sends. Every single time a woman comes to that stage and she does her thing brilliantly — giving us portrait like shots and beautiful landscapes and just incredible storytelling — that’s a win. Because for years in Hollywood they said that women just didn’t have it. There weren’t enough women that they could go to for the kind of work that they needed. Well Queen Sugar proves that that’s not true.
And then, women feel things differently and you can see that in these camera moves. These directors are not afraid to hang in a moment longer and let you feel it. Even if what you’re feeling is uncomfortable. I think that’s something that women do well. And I think that we as a people are in place today where feeling and feeling connected is something that we want more. And so here these women are perfectly positioned to help us feel. I think it’s brilliant.
Do you have a favorite moment from last season or even this season that you’re anxious for viewers to experience?
Tina: I’m going to go to episode 7 in season one. That’s the Hollywood and Vi breakup episode, and the thing that as an actress I loved about that scene is that there is so many conflicting emotions present in a moment. There is no question that these two people love one another. There is no question that in this moment there is a break in their trust. Something in the waters has disturbed their trust. You know that Hollywood had good intentions but none-the-less, it was hurtful and painful to Violet. So you see all of these people having legitimate feelings and understanding them all in the same moment. That really is life, right? And when we can begin to have a little bit more objectivity we can see that in each moment, even if we’re not in agreement, if you could just stop for a sec and look at it from each person’s point of view you would have a greeter level of understanding.
Now, skipping to season two, (this week’s) episode you will see a sort of full circle for me between that season one break up and the conversation that happens (in this) episode because again, it’s the same people having to make choices in the moment and choosing what makes sense in this moment. Whether you understand and agree with it or not, it makes sense and it’s important based upon who they are in this moment.
Lastly, are there certain qualities of women that you enjoy exploring through your work?
Tina: Yes. I love that we can change our minds on a dime. I love that we do feel things deeply and strongly. I love that we can overreact but also we can pull back and be objective and become more aware of ourself and then make new choices. I love that women can laugh easily and that nurturing and building community is literally part of our DNA, and that everywhere we go… cause certainly on our set, our set is a family. It’s not just a group of actors coming together. It’s a a number of souls or spirits, cause Ava has said that she doesn’t cast actors, she casts spirits. And she has brilliantly brought together this group of spirits and this feminine energy, even as it moves through the males. Dondre Whitfield is certainly a nurturer and so is Omar and is Timon. The feminine energetic is very alive and part of the thriving success and potential of Queen Sugar.
“Queen Sugar” airs Wednesday at 10/9c.