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Case Study: Queen Sugar

For seven seasons, Ava Duvernay’s Queen Sugar has employed only women directors. At last count, 42 of them held the job, 39 of them first-time episodic television directors. DuVernay’s insistence on finding and resurrecting neglected talent has jump-started the careers of iconic filmmakers.

(via Vanity Fair)

Directors of Queen Sugar together on stage
Photo grid of directors on the final season of Queen Sugar

Ava DuVernay’s OWN drama, Queen Sugar, established itself as a model for an industry struggling with diversity. Rather than directing all of the episodes of each season themselves, DuVernay and veteran director Neema Barnette hired and mentored talented female indie directors in their transition into TV.

Working on “Queen Sugar” had practical benefits: Many of the directors secured entry into the DGA, received health insurance and found representation for the first time. But the greatest gain may have been their newfound sense of confidence in their talents. That was a hard-won victory in an industry that has made it so hard, for so long, for women. Collectively, they refer to the changes brought about, thanks to the “Queen Sugar” initiative, as “the Ava Effect.”

Meet the Directors
What we really needed was someone to stand up and say, “This person’s great,” and that’s what Ava’s done for all of us — given us a stamp and a foot in the door.
Shaz Bennett
Showrunner, Final Season of Queen Sugar
Three women pose in front of a Queen Sugar sign

Not everyone was on board with DuVernay’s woman-only agenda. Early on, she got a call from a male director friend at the DGA who told her, “There are people here who want to bring sanctions, and who want you to speak to this decision. They’re not happy with this.” “I said they should bring those sanctions,” says DuVernay, “so we could have an open conversation about how we’ve had 100 years of television, full shows, that have run multiple seasons across every network on the dial, with no women on the directorial team. I would welcome that conversation. Let’s do it. Can it be in public?”

(via Vanity Fair)

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Queen Sugar’s impact will be felt in the industry for years to come, as directors who got their first episodic television directing job have gone on to direct for a wide range of series across networks and streamers, directly placing more talented women directors into the pipeline. Not only does this contribute to career sustainability for the individual directors, it creates a a shift in the number of working women directors now considered ‘experienced’ enough to interview for other jobs.


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