Photo Credit: Amy Sussman for Getty Images
With Queen Sugar ending, we’re taking a closer look at the women directors Ava DuVernay selected to help her bring the show to life.
Over the course of the past six years, Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar has thrived on TV. What has been a crucial part of the series’ success — and what separates it from other shows in the crowded drama market — though, is the team of women of color behind the scenes working alongside DuVernay. Across Queen Sugar’s seven seasons, DuVernay has hired 42 women directors, altering their professional lives in the process. Many of them were passed over time and time again due to Hollywood’s old boy’s club. Directing episodic TV (executive produced by DuVernay and Oprah at that) didn’t just provide a boost for their morale and self-confidence, but also allowed them to prove themselves in an industry that still has room for growth in terms of diversity.
Beginning in 2016, the OWN and ARRAY Filmworks show explored the depth of one African-American family, the Bordelon’s. Through them, the series covered topics such as community, police brutality, and sexuality, among many others, with the directors DuVernay selected helping the show become known for its emotional moments and stellar cinematography.
Now in its final season, we’d like to highlight the women directors who have poured into the show season after season. Without them, Queen Sugar would not be what it is: a beautiful and triumphant series centered on a Black family grappling with its legacy. Below you’ll find not just their backgrounds, but the other projects that are currently underway for them.
Raised in the Queensbridge Housing Projects in Long Island City, Julie Dash, an esteemed director, writer, and producer, has been a staple in the Black film canon for decades. Her work encompasses the depth of Black women’s lives. While studying at the University of California, Los Angeles to receive her master’s degree in the ‘80s, she was a part of the L.A. Rebellion, a cohort of African-American students who were the first to study film at the school. When she released her award-winning film Daughters of the Dust in 1991, she was the first Black woman to have a wide theatrical release. Since releasing Daughters, Dash has directed countless television movies, commercials, films, and documentaries. In a Variety feature, Dash said that DuVernay revitalized her career after having her direct some episodes for the show’s second season.
Current Projects: Reasonable Doubt, Women of the Movement
A pioneering force in Black film, Ayoka Chenzira is famously known for being one of the first Black women to write, produce, and direct a 35mm feature film, her 1994 debut Alma’s Rainbow. Developed at the Sundance Institute, her film contributed to the era of Black movies that were challenging Hollywood inner-city staples like Menace II Society and New Jack City. Chenzira’s work also encompasses documentary, animation, performance, television, theater, and more. Along with directing an episode of Queen Sugar, she’s worked on Greenleaf, Trinkets, and A League of Their Own.
Current Projects: Beacon 23
Born in Liberia, Cheryl Dunye is an award-winning filmmaker, director, and producer. Her work explores the dichotomies of race, sexuality, and gender. Her feature film The Watermelon Woman, which she starred in, wrote, and directed, centers on a Black lesbian. Aside from directing four episodes of Queen Sugar, she’s also directed episodes of Lovecraft Country, Bridgerton, Dear White People, Claws and more. In total, she has 37 directing credits.
Current Projects: Manifest, The Rookie: Feds, American Gigolo, Umbrella Academy
Director, producer, and writer Patricia Cardoso was the first Latinx woman to receive a Sundance Audience Award, when her feature film Real Woman Have Curves taking home the award in 2002. The movie is also the first Latina-directed film in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. During the span of her career Cardoso, who received her master’s in film and television from UCLA, has received 40 awards.
Current Projects: Harlan Coben’s Shelter
BAFTA member and New York City-bred director Victoria Mahoney utilized Sundance’s Directors and Screenwriters Institute Lab to develop her debut feature film Yelling to the Sky. Though she was a Tribeca Film Festival Fellow (and a fellow for other prestigious film institutions), she credits Queen Sugar with planting her in the TV directing universe after she’d spent a decade shadowing directors. Her filmography includes Grey’s Anatomy, You, Survivor’s Remorse, The Morning Show, Power, Claws and more.
Current Projects: Dawn, The Old Guard 2
San Francisco Bay Area native Aurora Guerrero premiered her debut film Mosquita Y Mari in 2012 at the Sundance Film Festival. Fast forward to 2017, Guerrero directed her first television episode, which was during Queen Sugar‘s second season. The drama series kickstarted her directing career, and since then she’s worked on Greenleaf, 13 Reasons Why, Gentefied, Cherish the Day, Bel-Air and more.
Amanda Marsalis’ directorial debut Echo Park premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2014. It was later acquired by DuVernay’s ARRAY two years later, which is how she connected with the famed director. After directing two episodes from Queen Sugar‘s second season, she directed an episode of Shooter. From there, she went on to direct episodes of For The People, Westworld, The Umbrella Academy, and also six episodes of Ozark, including its season two finale.
Current Projects: Kindred (co-executive producer), Class of ‘09, Naomi
Originally from Haiti, Numa Perrier wears many hats (she’s an actress, writer, and visual artist) but it’s through her work as a director with her debut film Jezebel that most became familiar with her. Shot in 10 days, Jezebel focuses on a cam-girl living in Las Vegas who is coping with the end of her mother’s life. Upon its debut at the South by Southwest Film Festival, Jezebel received critical acclaim.
Current Projects: Reasonable Doubt, Unprisoned
In 2015, Cierra Glaudé was hired as a Queen Sugar production assistant. After years of grinding — which also included working as a production assistant on DuVernay’s Selma and Lena Waithe’s Twenties — Glaudé worked her way into the writer’s room of Queen Sugar, before finally getting the opportunity to direct an episode in 2020. Since then, she’s gone on to direct additional episodes of Queen Sugar, as well as episodes of Twenties, P-Valley, Riverdale, and Power Book IV: Force.
Current Projects: The Chi, Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin
Kat Candler’s filmmaking career began after she graduated from Florida State University when she moved to Austin, Texas. In the early ’00s, she produced several films including Cicadas, The Absence of Wings, Roberta Wells, and Jumping Off Bridges. Following its release in 2009, her short film Love Bug won multiple awards including Best Florida Short Film Award at the Jacksonville Film Festival, and the Audience Award at the Austin Film Festival. By 2012, she premiered her Aaron Paul-starring directorial debut Hellion at the Sundance Film Festival. Candler has directed seven episodes of Queen Sugar, in addition to working as the producing director for season two and showrunner for season three. Her filmography spans directing episodes of Being Mary Jane, 13 Reasons Why, Dirty Jane and more.
Current Projects: Echoes
Christina Choe is an Asian-American filmmaker with a special knack for editing. In 2011, her short I am John Wayne won the Grand Jury Prize at the Slamdance Film Festival. Choe’s feature film debut Nancy premiered at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Nancy was created with a crew that was almost entirely women.
Current Projects: Harlan Coben’s Shelter
Although Salli Richardson-Whitfield has been an actress for 30 years (including a notable appearance alongside Denzel Washington in Antwone Fisher), she’s since pivoted to directing. After directing back-to-back episodes of the first season of Queen Sugar, she has since directed episodes of Scandal, American Gods, The Chi, Dear White People, Survivor’s Remorse, Luke Cage and more. Earlier this year, it was announced that Whitfield would executive produce and direct half of season two of Winning Time: The Rise of The Laker’s Dynasty.
Current Projects: Winning Time: The Rise of The Laker’s Dynasty, The Gilded Age
Shaz Bennett’s debut feature film Alaska Is A Drag pushed her into the filmmaking conversation back in 2017. Prior to that, she cut her teeth working for the Sundance Institute years ago beginning in 1989, and serving as the Associate Director of Programming for the American Film Festival for 10 years before ending her role there in 2009. In total, she’s directed five episodes of DuVernay’s award-winning series (directing an episode from Queen Sugar‘s third season actually led to her working on Billions), and has worked as executive producer and showrunner on the show, too.
Current Projects: Stakes Is High
DeMane Davis attributes her entire directing career to Ava DuVernay. Initially a copywriter, Davis hasn’t only directed episodes of Queen Sugar, having worked on You, For The People, Self Made: Inspired By The Life of Madame C.J. Walker, How to Get Away with Murder and more, too.
Current Projects: Naomi, Found
Hailing from Tupelo, Mississippi, Tina Mabry received her MFA in film production from the University of Southern California in 2005. Her inspirations run deep; she has previously shared Gina Prince Bythewood’s Love & Basketball pushed her to pursue film. Following school, she co-wrote the feature screenplay for Itty Bitty Titty Committee, which went on to win Best Feature Narrative at SXSW. Next, she directed and wrote her first feature film Mississippi Damned. But it’s episodic TV where she’s thrived in recent years, having worked on Power, Insecure, Grand Army, Pose and more.
Current Projects: The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat
New Orleans native Stacey Muhammad is mostly known for her sprawling and impressive indie filmmaking career. In recent years, she’s directed episodes of acclaimed series such as Love Life, Black-ish, Harlem, and Power Book III: Raising Kanan.
Current Projects: The Wonder Years