21st annual Urbanworld Film Fest: TV overview

NADINE MATTHEWS | 9/28/2017, 2:34 p.m.
With the lines between television and film becoming increasingly blurred, film festivals have begun showcasing premiere television and streaming service ...
'Queen Sugar' Photo courtesy of Urbanworld Film Fest)

With the lines between television and film becoming increasingly blurred, film festivals have begun showcasing premiere television and streaming service programming as well.

The 21st annual Urbanworld Film Fest was the launch pad for the midseason premiere of “Queen Sugar,” HBO’s upcoming documentary “Baltimore Rising” and the premiere of the latest episode of BET’s Irv Gotti produced anthology series, “Tales.” The “Queen Sugar” screening, which was followed by a panel, was brought to Urbanworld by one of its latest partners, the Oprah Winfrey Network. On the panel were showrunner Ava DuVernay, director of the episode, the great Julie Dash and cast members Kofi Siriboe, Rutina Wesley and Dawn Lyen-Gardner. The panel was moderated by writer and image activist Michaela Angela Davis.

Before the beginning of the screening, Dash, who directed the groundbreaking “Daughters of the Dust,” remarked, “I am very grateful about what Ava has accomplished and what our accomplishments have done to expand the field and bring in more people. It is pretty much the golden age of film and television for women of color. Let’s expand it and keep it rolling.”

Lyen-Gardner, who plays Charley on the family drama about the fictional Louisiana based Bordelon family, shared that it was recent Emmy winner Sterling K. Brown who was partially responsible for her being on the show. She recalls voicing her frustrations to him about her acting career about a year before “Queen Sugar.” She was seriously considering leaving the profession. Brown, she said, told her, “I hear you, but sis, stay in it. There is still more for you to do.”

Wesley, who plays Charley’s sister Nova, walked the red carpet twice: once for “Queen Sugar” and again for the short film “Last Looks,” written by her co-star Nick Ashe (Micah). She opened up about her longtime friendship with Juilliard classmate Lyen-Gardner. She said, “When you see us hug at the end of the first episode, you can tell that’s my girl. Our sisterhood started 10 years ago and I love that I get to share this with her.”

Moderator Davis commented at one point that “Queen Sugar” is a program that she can enjoy even with the sound turned all the way down. It is difficult to disagree. The midseason episode shows that “Queen Sugar” continues to be a visual experience rivaled by few in television. In terms of the story arcs, it is clear that Violet (Tina Lifford) will be facing some huge challenges during the second half of the season. We also meet Charley’s mother, played by Sharon Lawrence (“Shameless,” “NYPD Blue,” “Rizzoli and Isles”) and find out more about hidden aspects of Charley’s personality. Oprah’s bestie Gayle also comes through with a cameo appearance. We’ll also be learning more about Darla. Bianca Lawson continues to deliver stunning nuanced portrayals of a broken woman trying to forgive and heal herself and her family.

The other huge TV reveal was HBO’s “Baltimore Rising,” directed by “The Wire” actress Sonja Sohn, who herself has been an activist for many years. During the panel that followed the screening, she explained why she decided to tell this particular story. She said she “has always been amazed by the amount of work that goes on in Baltimore and puzzled by how little of it you actually see in the media.”