Natalie Baszile’s South Louisiana sugarcane story begins filming this month for OWN Network.
When we interviewed Natalie Baszile back in September of 2014 about her novel Queen Sugar, she mentioned that Oprah’s Harpo Productions had purchased the screen rights to the book. The ink was barely dry on the contract at the time, but now Queen Sugar is set to become a 13-episode TV series directed by Ava DuVernay.
Responsible for last year’s Oscar-nominated “Selma,” DuVernay traveled to South Louisiana with Baszile to see the real-life setting of her story. “We got her into a mill and were able to drive her around so that she could see the world the way I imagined it,” Baszile says. Queen Sugar is set in the fictional town of St. Josephine, based on New Iberia, but the story is moving to New Orleans for the screen.
“Queen Sugar took me 11 years to write and is kind of one story of what happened in this little town, and what I appreciate about what they’ve done by moving it to New Orleans is they are able to look at contemporary issues and talk about those,” says Baszile. “They’re able to take the essence and heart of the book and expand on that and really ask lot of questions this country is asking.”
According to nola.com, “Queen Sugar” was expected to begin filming yesterday and continue through mid-July. Baszile’s original storyline of a woman who inherits a crop of sugarcane is being adapted to tell a contemporary tale about a New Orleans journalist and activist named Nova Bordelon whose sister returns home to Louisiana from Los Angeles to help her run the family’s 800-acre sugarcane farm after their father’s death.
Oprah herself is reported to play a recurring role, while “True Blood”‘s Rutina Wesley will play Nova and Dawn-Lyen Gardner her sister (based on Baszile’s Charley). Omar Dorsey will play Hollywood Desonier, with Kofir Siriboe as Baszile’s troubled father Ralph Angel and Ethan Hutchison as his son, Blue.
“The focus is broader,” Baszile says, “because they have New Orleans as a place where this family lives so they are able to compare urban New Orleans life to St. Josephine.”
DuVernay has been tweeting about location scouting and other “Queen Sugar” news, including the addition of Tina Lifford, Dondre Whitfield, Timon Kyle Durrett and Nicholas L. Ashe to the team on February 17.
“They’re really focused on having women directors,” says Baszile (pictured). “It’s a diverse writers room, and I think that added some perspective and some dimension to have all of those different people creating this story.”
Baszile does plan to come down from her home in San Francisco to visit the set and says, “I’m as curious as anybody else to see what they’re doing and how they’re bringing this book to life.” She’s also working on two other novels — one set in Louisiana again and another in the Bay Area.
As for her contact with Oprah, she says, “We have met and spoken and that was lovely.”