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*Spoiler alert: If you’re still catching up on OWN’s 'Queen Sugar,' you may want to bookmark this article for later reading.
Queen Sugar recently finished another season, one that has particularly made a lasting impression. This season provided clarification into Darla’s ongoing battler with addition to alcohol, for viewers and the character. Darla painfully recognizes she was sexually assaulted as she listens to an old friend carelessly joke about a “wild” night between Darla two guys. Bianca Lawson’s acting was vivid and brought me to tears. I’ve sat with too many survivors of physical and sexual abuse who have similarly found it difficult to piece their stories together due to the crime that was inflicted upon them.
During the same episode, we also learn that Aunt Vi was not only physically beaten by her ex-husband, portrayed by actor and comedian David Alan Grier, but was also raped during that marriage, a crime which has only been illegal in all 50 states since 1993. This was a tearful and beautiful moment of solidarity that mended a hole in the previously tainted relationship between Aunt Vi and Darla.
The writers could have made the episode a one-and-done, where the National Sexual Assault Hotline flashes across the screen during the end credits, and then guide us through another topic during the next episode. I think it was a wise choice for the writers to continue the conversation about her healing, history of coping with alcohol and her determination to maintain her relationships with Ralph Angel and Blue. It also helps viewers understand the ongoing healing process for Aunt Vi and how she's learning how to be vulnerable and trusting in her relationship with Hollywood.
These may be characters on the TV screen, but entertainment shapes how we view reality. Aunt Vi’s and Darla’s experiences are very real and far too common. I hope their stories force people to recognize how complex and debilitating sexual violence is for people long after the crime has happened. More than anything, I hope their stories spark other creators in the entertainment industry to write regularly about the intersection of race, gender and healing from abuse. Survivors, including those battling addiction, deserve to see narratives that affirm their ability to be parents, lovers, entrepreneurs and more than the sum of traumatic events that led them to a battle with addiction.
Healing is not linear. It isn’t what we typically see on social media. Healing isn’t always meditation apps or bubble baths or getting a traditional therapist. Healing is complex and looks different for each person. For Darla, the beginning of her healing was putting a name to how someone violated her and ignored her inability to consent. For Aunt Vi, it was looking evil in the eye and letting Jimmy Dale know that he no longer had power or control over her, or anyone else. For both women, healing has been learning how to love and allowing others to love them fiercely and unconditionally.
For three and a half seasons, we’ve known about Darla’s struggle with addiction and recovery. Some viewers may have had compassion for her despite others, like Aunt Vi, who may have only begun to humanize her and empathize with her experience since we learned about the assault. Between Darla and Aunt Vi, this season provided answers and clarity to why they have had their ongoing battles, respectively, and I hope through future seasons the writers will dig into what and how healing will look like for these women.
I salute the writers and directors of Queen Sugar and encourage more creators in the entertainment industry to partner with advocates and educators within civic and social organizations to authentically portray complex narratives of survivors and the long road toward healing.