Season six of OWN’s “Queen Sugar" began earlier this month and actor Kofi Siriboe said that the show is specific and intentional about putting faces to structural racism and the impact it has on people — and the new episodes will build on that.
The series' first five seasons showed characters blocking a prison and highway construction project, staging mass protests and advancing against the grain as Black farmers and business owners.
Siriboe, one of three main actors leading "Queen Sugar," told TODAY in a Zoom interview that its intentionality, the setting of New Orleans and the cast make the show more human and raise the bar in each episode.
“Shoutout to New Orleans for just being a magical city,” he said. “I think that plays a huge role in it and I think it’s just about rhythm. Starting off, Ava (DuVernay) had a really specific story, full scope story in mind. Granted, even though the plot and environment is important, I think that our story, our show is really character driven. It's really about seeing these people evolve, as humans doing in real life.”
Ava DuVernay created and executive produces "Queen Sugar" based on a book written by Natalie Baszile. The series opens with the Bordelon family adjusting to the death of their patriarch, who left them a farm in St. Josephine Parish, New Orleans, a neighborhood that's 70 percent Black with historical and contemporary chasms between Black and white people. The youngest sibling is Siriboe’s character, Ralph Angel, who takes over the farm after being released from prison and maintains it while routinely running into setbacks out of his control come harvest time. The middle sibling, Charley (Dawn-Lyen Gardner), becomes a city council representative after a series of run-ins with a competing farm family lead to her sugar mill being burned down. The oldest sibling, Nova (Rutina Wesley), is an activist and journalist investigating the root causes of police brutality, underfunded Black farmers in the parish and the school-to-prison pipeline, among other things.
Siriboe said a key reason "Queen Sugar" remains successful is that it stays tapped in to current events and works them into the storyline. Some real life events it’s thoroughly covered are the mass fatal shootings of Black people by the police, the lawsuit Black farmers filed against the USDA, people traveling outside of their residency areas to receive vaccines when supplies were limited and angry white people sabotaging Black neighborhoods and businesses. The show pulls apart these multilayered complexities with numerous perspectives told through characters who have different levels of power, positionalities and relationships to the problem.
As heavy as the show can get, Siriboe said season six will also have some joyful moments.
“In true 'Queen Sugar' fashion, we have to lose to win, a lot,” Siriboe said. “But I do think we're gonna see some celebrating, some joy and some actual wins. You're definitely gonna see some drama, and definitely some trials and tribulations, but it's all for the good.” Siriboe said he hasn’t seen unaired season six episodes yet because he prefers to watch with fans Tuesday nights on OWN.
There are two main storylines told through Siriboe’s character Ralph Angel: fatherhood and managing a farm after serving some prison time. The character becomes the primary parent for his son Blue (Ethan Hutchison) while trying to transition back into the real world as the same money problems that landed him in prison continue.
Ralph Angel, and later his wife, Darla (Bianca Lawson), often walk the line of wanting Blue to be prepared for real life experiences without him losing his whimsical childhood innocence too soon. That tension is teased out when a series of police brutality incidents prompt Ralph Angel and Darla to teach 10-year-old Blue what to do when confronted by the police.
Siriboe said he leaned on personal experience of getting “the talk” to portray having the same conversation with his TV son.
“I just ended up time traveling and going back to my experiences of the first time I got those talks and the first time I kind of had those fears, and acknowledged those fears,” Siriboe said. “I just tried to channel that. Then actually, I realized that some of those fears are still fears, they show up in different ways, and it just becomes the exploration process.”
Ralph Angel stepping into a management role at the farm he inherited from his dad is an opportunity most do not have as they set out to begin their lives after prison. So Ralph Angel hires formerly incarcerated people to work on his farm to offer them the same reset he had.
Siriboe said even with that reset, prison sentences still carry a stigma.
“I don't think Ralph Angel, necessarily, is consciously thinking of jail as much these days, but it's always going to be a part of him and I think he also is prideful about that in a unique way. That being said, life is still life. He still has to do what he has to do. And sometimes we just do what we have to do. So it's just like, that's a part of him he's always gonna have to kind of navigate.”
Louisiana cities outside of New Orleans were recently hit hard by Hurricane Ida. Siriboe, who was in New Orleans when interviewed, said he’s been on the ground helping where he can, but there are no quick fixes in situations like these.
“Some people are getting taken care of, but it's like what's going to be going on for the next six months to 12 months? That's kind of what the word is on the ground,” adding that he’d love to see "Queen Sugar" co-producer Warner Bros. Television donate to relief efforts.
Queen Sugar's first five seasons are currently streaming on Hulu and season six will become available after the finale airs.