Lots of changes in store for ‘Queen Sugar’ characters this season

The same way lives were upended in real life is the same way the season was upended once the pandemic hit

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Kofi Siriboe remembers March 2, 2020 very well. It was his birthday and the cast of Queen Sugar had just assembled to start production on the show’s fifth season. They took a celebratory photo that ran on Tina Lifford‘s Instagram page and got ready to go to work.

A week and a half after that happy pic was taken, on March 13, TV and film productions worldwide were shut down and the cast wouldn’t see each other for the next eight months.

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Like everyone else, they were grounded and sheltering in place and trying to make the best of the strange new world. For Ava DuVernay and the brain trust around Queen Sugar, the lockdown posed a different challenge – how to recreate the season in the wake of the pandemic and months later, the racial reckoning after the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery in February, Breonna Taylor in March, and of George Floyd in May.

As they had only shot one episode, DuVernay, along with showrunner Anthony Sparks and Paul Garnes, head of physical production for Array, DuVernay’s production company, and an executive producer on Queen Sugar, mapped out how to proceed. DuVernay threw out the season she had planned to incorporate all the current events of 2020 and the production figured out how to move forward with new COVID restrictions.

Queen Sugar Bordelon OWN thegrio.com
Dawn Lyen Gardner as Charley Bordelon on season 5 of ‘Queen Sugar.’

Like the NBA and WNBA, the cast and crew of Queen Sugar was placed in a “bubble” in New Orleans and shot with their “pod” which is why you may see fewer familial interactions on the show this season, just like what happened in real life.

“The whole concept of a bubble is a great idea, but in practice, it’s very difficult,” Garnes told Variety in October. The industry started this concept of pods and how to group your crew.”

He continued: “We expanded it to include the cast. We podded the cast into family groups. What that allowed us to do was to pull some of the risk and exposure off of the cast members. We didn’t have the cast interact directly throughout the whole season, and that allowed us to protect them in their individual groups. We created a bubble around each pod of that cast.”

As the show takes place in the fictional town of St. Josephine, Louisiana, cast members stayed in New Orleans hotels for 14 days prior to shooting and the production did ‘block shooting,’ which means they shot a bulk of episodes in sequence. Actors this year knew much more about where their character arcs would end up because they had more episode scripts in advance than in previous seasons.

We caught up with Dawn Lyen Garnder, Siriboe and Rutina Wesley who comprise the three Bordelon siblings. When last we saw them, each was navigating a new situation: Charley (Garnder) was newly elected to the St. Josephine City Council while figuring out how to rebuild Queen Sugar Mill, which was torched last season.

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Ralph Angel (Siriboe) was leaning into his role as a farmer and reconnecting with Darla, (Bianca Lawson) his son’s mother, after years of turmoil between them, and Nova (Wesley) was seeking forgiveness from her family after writing a book that revealed family secrets and settling into her relationship with former police officer Calvin. (Greg Vaughn).

Watch the interview with Garnder, Siriboe and Wesley above who talk about what to expect from their characters this season.

Queen Sugar will air on Tuesdays on OWN and if you don’t have cable, you can get full episodes after they air by signing into OWN’s website. You can also see the show via YouTube TVHulu Live TV, or Philo. Catch up on seasons 1-4 via Hulu.

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