Amanda Marsalis In the Director's Chair for Ava DuVernay's Queen Sugar
When Ava DuVernay created Queen Sugar for Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network, she did it to tell incredible black stories in ways that would be appealing to all audiences while retaining narrative integrity. But the show also offered her the opportunity to issue a challenge to Hollywood. If other shows can have entire seasons of television directed exclusively by male directors, why can’t she do the same with female directors? “It’s not necessarily about the storytelling,” Amanda Marsalis, who directed two episodes from this season of Queen Sugar cautions. “Of course you could argue a female’s point of view is going to be different from a male’s point of view but all women are different. To me it’s more about creating the opportunity to show that female directors are as talented as male directors.” In fact, thinking of a female point of view being inherently different from a male point of view is problematic on its own - instead what DuVernay, OWN, and Marsalis are proving is that it’s just about making good work.
Amanda met DuVernay when her feature film Echo Park was picked up by DuVernay’s ARRAY worldwide. Soon after they met, Amanda spent time on set while Queen Sugar finished up filming the first season. As Amanda was leaving that first season DuVernay pulled her aside and asked her if she wanted to direct any future episodes – of course she did. It wasn’t until Amanda woke up on Christmas morning in Japan that she got DuVernay’s email inviting her on for season 2. “I woke up on Christmas in Tokyo and just burst into tears,” she says with a laugh. “I will never get a Christmas Present this good again.”
Queen Sugar hasn’t just offered Amanda an awesome environment in which to tell stories, it’s also a supportive creative community. “It was absolutely thrilling to be on set and to just be there and get to pull all of the toys out of the toy box and play with them,” says Amanda. “There’s a network of support that really is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I was so fucking thrilled and happy.” All film production is a massive undertaking, but on Queen Sugar Amanda found a family that all worked together to create magic for a second season, and was graciously welcomed into it. That kind of community allows for creative to work together with optimum effect for a fantastic final product.
Queen Sugar airs Wednesday nights on the OWN network. Season 2 is on now, and Amanda’s first episode “Caroling Dusk” airs on July 12.