Director Ava Duvernay broke down her meaning of “woke” with a moving personal anecdote about how the Queen Sugar cast showed up for her during one of her hardest life moments.
“Woke is not necessarily activism or protesting or all the things that we do…” she explained to the audience at ESSENCE Fest 2017 during her acceptance speech as a 2017 Woke Women Award honoree. “It’s about being there for each other in our time of need.”
The show’s cast did just that for her about a year ago when Duvernay’s father passed away. His death, however, occurred just three weeks after she had shot the show’s premiere episode. In that episode, protagonist Charlotte “Charley” Bordelon’s father suffers a stroke, forcing her to reunite with her family in Louisiana.
“And in some way, I was in the same situation as the characters,” explained Duvernay.
Duvernay traveled to Montgomery, Ala. for the funeral. And she was surprised when all the whole cast of Queen Sugar showed up for it as well.
“They drove from New Orleans to Montgomery. All of them in their own cars. They figured out how to get there,” she said. “But they were all there.”
“And that is woke to me,” she added, emphasizing that support and community are core values of wokeness.
“The wokeness of our community and what we have done throughout the generations to survive is to hold on to each other and to make sure that we are okay. And I encourage us and celebrate that we continue to do that.”