Oprah Inspired Ava DuVernay's 'Queen Sugar'

It's always cool when a group of badass women get together, and this latest gathering is no exception. On Saturday, Oprah Winfrey, Ava DuVernay, and writer Natalie Baszile gathered in Hollywood to discuss Queen Sugar, DuVernay's TV show that's based on Baszile's book and airs on The Oprah Winfrey Network. The panel included many aha moments of sorts, but DuVernay's reveal that Oprah inspired Queen Sugar stood out. "I wanted to tell the story of formerly incarcerated people, of a matriarch who, like Oprah, is 60 and sexy, of a self-determined woman building an empire," said DuVernay. "I wanted permission to build on what Natalie Baszile had done." While the characters already existed in Baszile's book before Oprah or DuVernay got their hands on it, it's clear that Oprah is more than just a producer on the show — she's an inspiration for it, and to DuVernay herself.

For those who haven't started watching Queen Sugar yet, the drama follows three siblings, all of whom seem to have a little bit of Oprah in them: Nova, the eldest and an activist/journalist; Charley, who leaves her successful LA life to take over her family's Louisiana sugar farm; and Ralph Angel, a struggling single father. The series has already been renewed for a second season, and at Saturday's panel, which was put on by the WGA Foundation, the origin story of the collaboration between Baszile, DuVernay, and Winfrey was revealed. Apparently, Winfrey was so inspired by Baszile's book that she left copies lying around DuVernay's vacation house. Thankfully, the director took the hint.

It became clear during the panel that DuVernay's admiration for Winfrey is reciprocated. According to Variety, Winfrey described the director as "a role model for our times for having a seed of a dream inside you and the will and courage to follow it." The two women have also collaborated on Selma, the 2014 film about the 1965 voting rights marches that DuVernay directed and Winfrey produced. It definitely seems like a lasting partnership, especially considering the fact that Winfrey will appear in DuVernay's upcoming big-budget adaptation of A Wrinkle In Time.

Seeing two women work together and express such admiration for each other is refreshing and inspiring in a world with far too few women, and far, far too few women of color, in directing and producing roles. Prevailing narratives often pit successful women against one another, but DuVernay and Oprah have both made it clear that helping other women, not just each other, is one of their top priorities. Queen Sugar made headlines because its first season was directed entirely by women, a trend that appears to be catching on. The world is lucky to have Oprah and DuVernay out there, helping out women and hopefully starting a chain reaction of inclusion and representation.