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Interview: Kat Candler on How ‘Queen Sugar’ Is Opening Doors For Women Filmmakers

In two weeks, Queen Sugar will be back on our screens and will return with a two-night special. Fans of Nova, Charley and Ralph-Angel Bordelon who have been eagerly awaiting the return of the Bordleon family will finally get to see what happens after that epic season two finale.

For this season, Ava DuVernay will continue with an all-female director lineup. Kat Candler who was producing director in season two has been named Executive Producer and Showrunner for the third season of the show. While we await the return of the Bordleon’s, I caught up with Candler to learn about her time and experience working on the show.’

Talk about coming into the Queen Sugar from season 2 and your journey here to season 3 as showrunner.

My background is in the Indie world. I was making short films and Indie features and the short film that I had at Sundance in 2012 called Hellion was there the same time that Ava DuVernay had Middle of Nowhere there and that’s how we met. It was through film circles and our circles continued to cross. In 2015, Ava was the keynote speaker at SXSW and she came up to me, we were hanging out and she told me she was making this TV show. She asked if I’d be interested in directing it.

This came after countless doors were being shut on me as I tried to get into the television world. It’s a catch-22, if you don’t have experience in TV, they’re reluctant to hire you, and she flung the door wide open. I said, “Please God. I’d love to.” I got the book and read it. I fell deeply in love with these characters and the world. I grew up in the South and I grew up in Florida, lived in Texas for twenty years and I’m in love with rural life. The book helped me. I also visited the set when So Yong Kim was directing and got to meet the actors. I was so enamored by them by how they embodied these characters. I met Kofi Siriboe for the first time and watched him work and thought, “Who is this guy? He’s incredible and so authentic.” I got to direct two episodes 1:08 and 1:09 and everyone on Ava’s set in front and behind the camera is just kindness through and through and they’re such artists. She creates this world that you can come and play and put your stamp on things and really just make art.

New Orleans in itself is such a beautiful character on the show. Getting to live and experience that city and the outskirts really bring the whole thing to life on screen.

From season one, I really loved loved loved directing and living in the world. Ava approached me in the Fall before season two and asked if I’d be interested in coming back as the producing director. I wasn’t terribly familiar with that, but it’s shepherding these brand new TV directors through the process. Everyone who comes to our show on the directing end of things is brand new to TV, they’re mostly coming from the independent film space. Having been a teacher at the University of Texas prior to, I got to couple my teaching and directing and working with all of these amazing directors, it was such a gift to be able to help them through their first time in television, but also to learn from them. I got to take something from every single director I worked with last season. That was such a gift to me as a director. I directed three episodes last season including the season premiere, the season finale and 2:07.

The season finale is one of my favorite episodes of television that I’ve ever directed. Bringing to life Ava’s words was pretty spectacular. The stories told in that particular episode were so heartbreaking, warming and so special.

The Fall rolls around and Ava pulls me aside and asks if I’d be interested in show running. Again, I’m not quite sure how to do that I had never been in a writer’s room in my life, but I will do the best I can and learn as much from every direction and every corner. It’s been incredible to assemble a team of writers. My degree is in writing so I’ve always written and directed prior to TV. It was a real special experience to be able to move from behind the camera to behind the pen.

I love hearing this story of how the door has opened for you. It’s such an amazing story.

Thank you.

You’re shooting the latest episode as we speak, but do you have a hand in finding the directors? What’s that process?

Ava always has a list of directors that she is excited about. It’s usually someone that she’s met through a fil, festival or work that she’s seen. She has a little list that she keeps of women.
I will slip in some recommendations. We all have so many incredibly talented filmmakers who are so deserving of an opportunity like this. It opens doors everywhere. Every one of our directors from the previous two seasons are working non-stop in the television space and it’s amazing and groundbreaking.

It’s everywhere, whether seeing a film at a festival or someone being recommended, it’s always trying to find someone who might not have that opportunity or the press or representation. We have a lot of directors that don’t even have representation.

Queen Sugar is giving women these great opportunities, and it’s making a stamp on the industry, but how is it changing your work life and being surrounded by that?

It’s a little bit of an anomaly. You come on to set, you see so many people of color and so many women, and that’s so rare to see that representation behind the camera. I think so many people are so invested in this show because of what it represents both on the screen and behind the scenes.

I had a writer this season, her episode was 3. She came back to LA and said, “I’ve never experienced something so special like this.” Everybody from the DP and everyone in between is truly invested and wants so much to make something really powerful and resonant.

It’s being able to make those calls to the directors and inviting them to come and direct. I usually start crying along with them because it’s such a huge opportunity. I certainly don’t take it for granted. It’s a show that is generous on every level whether it’s giving to the audience or to the artists and allowing the space for all of us to create something special and to leave our imprint on screen.

The show, aside from being timely, talks about so many social justice issues that we can relate to, talk about the writer’s room and being in there.

One thing about being in the writer’s room that I really appreciate is the research and being able to explore whether it’s social justice issues, characters, or events. One of my favorite parts is being a storyteller is the research and taking that documentarian approach of listening, questioning and getting to the heart and the laters of what makes something so honest on-screen which is what I think we’re always striving for. I love the research and learning about what’s going on in the world.

In season three, with Darla going home, we’re picking up with what the last few months have looked like for Ralph Angel and Blue with Darla’s absence and how this little boy reacts to the confusion in his life, but also how Ralph Angel is trying to manage that. As a parent, you have kids who are dealing with so much in their lives whether it’s the separation of parents or any kind of dysfunction and the language they use with their behavior to express that. I think it’s interesting this season to watch early on, Ralph Angel struggle with this little boy who is acting up in new ways that we haven’t seen before and seeing that dynamic between parent and child.

Charley is being the fierce powerhouse of a woman trying to take on this family and doing what she can to take them down. It’s a journey of strength, revenge and it’s also seeing her as a human have to navigate what this means to her in terms of how far she is willing to go and the repercussions of that.

With Nova, she wrote this wonderful at the end of last season that will manifest into wonderful accolades and new avenues for her to pursue in her career. I’m really excited about her journey this year in terms of digging a bit deeper internally, not only in the politics, her passion for social justice, but also in taking a magnifying glass to herself as well and who she is and where she fits in the family and her own history.

Movies are a bit slow with catching up to the doors TV open, do you feel having worked on Queen Sugar, that there’s a change happening in movies?

I think so. I hope so. Please, God. I’m seeing more doors opening. I’m seeing action from networks and studios. For the artists to gain the experience, it’s about gifting them that experience because there are so many wickedly talented filmmakers out there. For us, we get to give them the chance and we get to see them shine with that chance. There’s nothing better seeing them come in and succeed full on and screen from the mountaintop that they crushed it on our show and now, look at this person. I hope shifts are being made and tides are turning.

 

 

Season 3 of Queen Sugar will premiere on Tuesday, May 29 and Wednesday, May 30.