It Takes a Village. #QueenSugar Episode 5 Review.
What about the wellbeing of the people who make up the village?
Who holds space for them?
How much work actually goes into the maintaining of the village?
All of us are well acquainted with the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”, a well meaning proverb, illustrating the type of community where everyone rallies together to raise, support, uplift a person. In this concept, the gaze is often on the person receiving the support and how they are better for it, but not often enough, do we shift the gaze to the village. That is the people who do the supporting. How much work and sacrifice do they put in, and what is the toll it takes on them? Episode 5 of Queen Sugar explores this concept in depth.
Last Episode, we left Nova riding high on the publishing of her article in which she denounced the systemic racism of prisons and the police force. Her dedication to black lives, that’s her village; that’s where she puts in work. Episode 5 begins with an argument between her and Calvin her cop boyfriend, who feels betrayed because he sneaked her in the hospital to see “too sweet” after he was brutalized in prison. He knows that visit gave Nova more fuel to push through with the article. He reminds her that with all that criticism, she shouldn’t forget that policemen put their lives on the line whenever they go to work. “ My dad was a cop, his brother was a cop, my brother is a cop. I work with cops with families who pray that they come home at the end of the day”, he tells. “yeah well that’s the same prayer that black mothers and fathers say to their children every time they walk out of the house for over 300 years”.While it has always been obvious that Nova and Calvin’s different lived experiences would eventually seep into their relationship, this is the defining moment when we see that their “village” has seeped into their relationship. The tension between black lives and cops, between black and white, has made it’s way into the relationship.
The idea of being part of a village is often romanticized as the ideal type of community, but in this clash between Nova and Calvin, we see how her dedication to being the village that raises, support and uplift black lives, is also taking a toll on her relationship with Calvin. Later on in the episode we see a further crumbling of Nova’s village, as one of the drug dealers from the community comes to get his batch of weed from her. He notes that when “too sweet” was arrested, he had weed on him which the guy gave him. She is about to reprimand him for selling “too sweet” the weed, when he then reminds her she is the sole provider of weed in the whole community. It dawns on her that she is in part responsible for his arrest.
Calvin comes in right after, to try and mend a relationship that is already on the rocks by begin her to stop with the anti-police articles, trying to take down a whole system because of just one kid. She reminds him “this system was built on the backs of black bodies”. When he responds with “here we go again”, I got a chill down my back. Because it echoed my own fears of interracial relationships. That one day, my partner would “have a problem with me speaking my truth”, as Nova said. And I think that that is the moment when Nova realizes too, that the relationship can’t go on, because her village of black lives, of black incarcerated boys, matter more than her relationship. It’s a sacrifice she is willing to make for her village, but one that is difficult still, as is felt in the crack of her voice when she tells Calvin to leave his key to her house as he walks out the door.
Charley, is perhaps the primary example of the struggle of giving yourself to multiple villages, to literally being the village that raise her child Micah, the person handling her husband’s scandal, the person handling financial affairs for the farm, all leaving little room for her to process her own pain. The need for her to be there for so many people at once, makes it so she has to put her own pain aside, though there is still a question of whether this is out of necessity so she can be there for others, or a welcome distraction so she doesn’t have to deal with her pain, or maybe both.
We see Charley trying to convince Micah to see a therapist to help him cope with his problems, while she is driving on her way to go talk to her husband’s rape accuser to discuss a price to prevent a trial. In her conversation with the girl, we see her obvious struggle to decide where to stand her ground. She tries to be stoic in the conversation, but there are subtle moments of hesitations when you can tell she wonders whether her husband truly is a rapist. For example, when she tells the girl that she is better off taking the money instead of risking being dragged through the mud, the girl asks her “but how do you unrape someone? Have you ever been raped, Mrs. West? But because I’m a sex worker, you assume that I’m lying”.
This right here, is why this particular character is so important. Because she is not the perfect, respectable victim we often wish for. The good girl, who was just minding her own business, and an evil man raped. No. The prostitute is the victim that makes it difficult for all of us to root for her, and even though we need we should always believe the victim, it’s not so easy to do that for a woman who sells her body for a living. Charley’s struggle to believe is critical, because it humanizes her and allows us to put ourselves in this character because most of us are likely struggling right along with her. This ability to see ourselves in her, follow the rollercoaster of emotions, and allows for the self-reflection which demands that we review our understanding of rape and ideal victims.
On top of dealing with her husband’s scandal, Charley also needs to tend to the farm, though thankfully she has the expertise of Remy to guide her through the process. His willingness to share his extensive knowledge is a welcome help, though Charley isn’t always the best at listening and following advice. During the auction, Charley ends up paying much more money for a tractor than it’s worth, in a bidding war with the man who once wanted to buy her father’s farm. In her stubborn need to gain the upper hand on the man, she ends up wasting much needed money while managing to discredit herself to the rest of the farmers present at the auction. Still, Remy is always there ready to rescue her with his farming know-how, his resources, and his connections to the community.
Though Charley wasted money by spending too much on a tractor, she didn’t necessarily get as much flack as Ralph did when he got scammed by spending $15,000 of seed cane that was infected by Fungus. And it is this struggle that Ralph endures, which is the necessity of constantly having to work hard to prove himself with more barriers and a smaller margin of error. He works hard at his part time job where his employer constantly takes money from his (and other employees’) paychecks, and the employee knows they can’t easily quit due to the low employment rate for the formerly incarcerated. That is how Ralph ends up working with other employees to steal from the job, by taking a few cellphones from the shipments to resell them. Though he knows he shouldn’t, the sense of injustice is enough to convince him to follow through even though Aunt Violet would certainly frown upon his illegal activities.
Speaking of Aunt Vi, she is dealing with her own struggles at work, as the new manager comes in with new rules for a code of conduct that aims to get of the southern charm of treating customers like family, in exchange for a perfunctory greeting script that is cold and robotic. She eventually quits her job to come home to her nieces Nova and Charley, who immediately cheer her up with a sisterly conversation around men, love, disappointments in jobs, and an unspoken understanding that sometimes you just need to surrender and relax because the world won’t fall apart if you just breathe (or inhale a joint) for a second.
Aunt Vi’s relationship with her Boyfriend Hollywood, is one that is definitely #relationshipgoals, with their genuine care for one another and a dedication to romance that makes a lot of us dream. Though in past episodes we see Hollywood only in the context of his relationship with Violet, in this episode we get to know him a bit better and find out that he is married. We see him at a hospital, visiting his wife who is being treated for mental illness and was just taken off suicide watch. They in fact, have been separated for a long time, but he stayed married to her because he knows she needs the insurance for her treatment. It’s obvious that Hollywood is a man of integrity, always willing to do the right thing, including coming to take his wife back to her home, not getting a divorce so she can get treatments, and doing his best so that she can get what she needs. His wife tries to convince him they should get back together, but he reminds her that he has moved on, that he HAD to move on and she needed to let him go. It must have been such a difficult decision for him to take, because of his obvious willingness to be there for others. But he had to make sure to care for himself, to choose his own happiness even though it meant moving on from his marriage.
It raises the question again, of who takes care of the people who make up the village? How do you uplift others without experiencing burnout? When do you choose you? How much of yourself do you give?
When we say that it takes a village, do we ever ask the village how they are doing?