For six seasons, Ava DuVernay’s Queen Sugar has captured the richly complex reality and humanity of everyday Black life in Louisiana. There’s no other show presently like it on television — a bittersweet fact for the cast of Queen Sugar, who were on hand at Sunday night’s Vulture Festival to premiere the upcoming season six finale of the beloved OWN series. “There’s been a lot of conversation about progress for Black people in Hollywood: ‘The time has come.’ We’re seeing more work for Black directors,” moderator and Vulture critic Angelica Jade Bastién began. “I’m curious, as people actually acting in the industry, how do you feel about where Hollywood is today with regard to celebrating and nurturing Black creativity?” The thoughtful prompt elicited an equally thoughtful and candid response from star Kofi Siriboe.
“I think we celebrate it. I feel like we can do a better job at nurturing it,” Siriboe, who plays Ralph Angel Bordelon, an ex-con with the weight of the world on him, immediately jumped in. “We celebrate people winning and us being able to tell stories, but, systematically, there’s still filters — there’s still people who have to green-light these stories, so naturally, our stories get diluted.” He continued, “We try to concentrate so many aspects of our culture and we’re not able to talk about the nuance and the dimensional fullness of being Black. There’s so many facets that we don’t touch. And if we do, it’s surface. But then we’re supposed to celebrate like crazy.”
It’s a balance. Because as a Black actor, I do want to celebrate our wins and give kudos where kudos is necessary, but the bigger problem is the system. And put simply, statistically, we’re not being represented. I don’t care how much you see us right now. We’re not being represented. Even this little fraction of representation — even a show like Queen Sugar — is still disrespectful in a lot of ways when the experience of being Black is a whole ocean of representation that hasn’t been discovered yet. It’s so deep. Celebrate for sure. But the nurturing and challenging of the system — getting them to tell stories of dimension, of Black doctors, lawyers, students, engineers … We’ve seen the slave stories; they’re inspiring stories. But the truth of the color that we live in … we’re scratching the surface. The people have to know the truth. As Black celebrities, as Black actors, we kind of protect the system because we’re also in bed with it, you know? And I think we can all relate to being in bed with an industry that’s bigger than you but you still need to pay your bills. How do we a shine a lot on all of this while still celebrating our progress? How do we not be fooled by what they’re calling ‘progress’? If it takes us this much just to get to the surface, it’s not progress once we’re on the surface. We shouldn’t have been below ground in the first place.”
A speech so good, the rest of the cast on hand — including Bianca Lawson, Tina Lifford, Nicholas L. Ashe, and Tammy Townsend — could only add applause.