Oprah Winfrey delivered an inspiring speech to close out Variety’s Power of Women dinner, presented by Lifetime. Winfrey was honored at the event alongside her “Queen Sugar” partner Ava DuVernay, both of whom turned the OWN series into a launching pad for female directors. Winfrey championed “Queen Sugar” for “defining the OWN network” and for “reflecting black families.”
“We are all looking for the same thing,” Winfrey said. “This is the one lesson I came away from doing ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’ The common denominator of our experiences is that we all want to know that we matter and we want a show that reflects our values.”
Winfrey was introduced by DuVernay, who spoke about their experience creating the OWN drama series “Queen Sugar,” which made history with the duo’s decision to exclusively hire women to direct the series’ 7-season, 88-episode run. The show employed 42 women directors, seven of whom — Shaz Bennett, Kat Candler, Patricia Cardoso, DeMane Davis, Aurora Guerrero, Stacey Muhammad and Victoria Mahoney — walked the red carpet in solidarity with Winfrey and DuVernay and still more “Queen Sugar” helmers took the stage before Winfrey gave her rousing speech.
“It’s groundbreaking what they’ve done,” Winfrey said of the show’s directors. “When I came back from opening my school, I was sitting with Maya Angelou and I said, ‘Maya, oh my God, you should have been there for the opening of the school because that school is going to be my greatest legacy.’ She said, ‘You have no idea what your legacy is going to be.’ I said, ‘Oh no, I think it’s really gonna be those girls.’ And she said, ‘I said, ‘You have no idea what your legacy is going to be because your legacy is never one thing. Your legacy is every life you touch.’ And so I think of every story, every show, every life that has been touched because of the idea that [Ava] had [to hire women directors].”
In their Power of Women cover story, Winfrey and DuVernay discussed the origins of their daring “Queen Sugar” mandate.
“I remember getting the call from Ava saying, ‘I have this idea: What if we just have all women directors?’” Winfrey said. “I go, ‘All women directors? Can we do that?’ Ava goes, ‘Yeah, we can do that.’”
DuVernay chimed in, “Because you own the network.”
In DuVernay’s estimation, Winfrey’s OWN was key to making this work.
“These were all real things that we heard: ‘It won’t last.’ ‘There aren’t enough women directors to do it.’ ‘This is just a fluke,’” DuVernay recalled. “But seven seasons later, this has become a real movement in episodic directing that will reverberate through our industry for many years to come.”
With the seventh and final season of “Queen Sugar” underway on OWN, the pair also examined the show’s legacy.
“The fact that this is the longest-running dramatic television series that centers a Black family really says something about the state of American television over the history of the medium,” DuVernay shared.
Noting the dearth of these dramas, she added: “We have to ask: ‘Why has this not happened? Why has this not been launched and nurtured? Why has it not been seen and celebrated?’ These are all questions that I think our industry should be looking at. As ‘Queen Sugar’ goes away, what’s in its place?”