“Queen Sugar” wasted no time announcing its boldness. Debuting on the Oprah Winfrey Network last September, the very first scene of the series opened with a tight shot of Nova (Rutina Wesley) in bed. She was an image of African- American Beauty rarely seen on television – flowing dreadlocks, a tattooed arm, and lean and muscular legs- while the cool tone of the lighting enhanced the richness of her dark brown skin.
The show, which returns for its second season on June 20, is also representative of something more: a recognition that both critical hosannas and business success can be had with intelligent scripted programming for, and about, black lives in America.
Broadcast TV networks have increasingly pursued this audience with black- themed shows like “Empire” on Fox or Shonda Rhime’s Thursday night lineup on ABC, headlined by “Scandal.” And two black-oriented cable networks, OWN and Black Entertainment Television, facing a television landscape more competitive than ever, have been prodded to add creative ambition to their business models, and now heavily invest in scripted programming that reflects the lives of their predominantly African-American female audiences and their families.
The result: vastly improved ratings, and in the case of OWN’s “Queen Sugar” created by Ava DuVernay (the director of the Oscar-nominated “Selma” and “13th”), a growing reputation for developing prestige drama.
Whether this moment of black-themed scripted shows will last is unclear. “to call this the golde n age of African- Americans on TV is a little too much, maybe we’ll just say, “It’s a silver age”, said Beretta Smith-Shomade, a professor of media and film studies at Emory University.”this is a time in which black shows are being…
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