When Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay joined forces last year to create the TV series Queen Sugar, we should have known that it would mean amazing things for women. DuVernay immediately prioritized hiring women of color to direct many season one episodes and when season two premieres on OWN June 20, every episode will be directed by a woman.
During a panel at the Produced By Conference this weekend, DuVernay said she was shocked to learn that many of her black female friends were struggling to break into television, even though they had directed feature films. “It’s just that first episode of television. Once you have it, it really opens up,” DuVernay said during the panel.
“All of those women directors from Season 1, you can’t book them now,” Winfrey added. “It elevated the conversation, so other people started talking about it, so it makes you think a little differently next time you’re going to hire.”
So while season one of Queen Sugar opened doors for its female directors, Winfrey and DuVernay decided to continue and chose only women to direct season two episodes.
“Because we can,” said Winfrey. “We can do that!”
Both Winfrey and DuVernay are also committed to seeking out new, undiscovered talent. It's common for people to want to work with the same people over and over again, but DuVernay recognizes that this strategy is problematic. So she put on a mandate on all her projects, including the upcoming film, A Wrinkle in Time, and Queen Sugar.
“If you’re a department head, do not come to me with a list of white men,” DuVernay said. “You have to show me that you’ve looked at other people. Other people are excellent other than the people you know, and you have to show me that you’ve done that before we make any hire.”
As DuVernay completes A Wrinkle in Time, she emphasizes that change needs to start at the top.
“It’s a cultural thing,” she says. “The culture of OWN and Queen Sugar and Wrinkle is to be inclusive. The culture of so many other things is not to be.”