'Queen Sugar' season two premiere tackles "driving while black" — and it was too close to reality


The season-two premiere of Ava Duvernay's Queen Sugar immediately ratcheted up the suspense by diving into the traumatic experiences of driving while black.

On Tuesday's episode, 16-year-old Micah was pulled over by an officer while riding in his new luxury sports car. The cop asked Micah to hand over his license and tension built when the teen said he didn't have his ID. As Micah looked for the vehicle's registration, the officer began gripping his gun. When Micah turned towards the car window, the officer pointed the weapon at the frightened adolescent. "Put your hands up where I can see them. Now!" the cop demanded.

Micah's intense encounter with the older white officer could eerily read as a real-life account of driving while black cases — especially since a dashcam video of Philando Castile's shooting was released the same day the episode aired. Several days earlier, on Friday, Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter in the case. Yanez shot Castile dead in his vehicle in front of his girlfriend and daughter in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, in July.

Queen Sugar's fictional racial profiling incident triggered memories of violent traffic stops that have been looped over and over on social media and TV news outlets — like the cases of Sandra Bland, Walter Scott and Laquan McDonald. Micah lived through this experience, but so many others were killed before they were able to tell their side of the story.

The evening Micah was pulled over, he was on his way to have dinner with his family. After being a no show, his mother, Charley and his aunt Nova went out searching for him. Nova then received word that Micah was at a nearby jail. Upon arrival, cops told Charley and Nova that Micah was not in their system. The officers were reluctant to search further for him. But Davis, Micah's father and Charley's estranged husband, worked his charm with the police, who recognized him as a superstar basketball player. Only then was Micah released from his cell.


In Micah's case, his father's celebrity status played a role in him being let go without much of a fight that evening, but his time in custody could have been much longer if it hadn't. But Micah's economic status could not protect him from being pulled over in the first place. By the end of the episode, Micah is emotionally distraught and in a state of shock.

It is not known whether Charley and Davis had "the talk" about racial profiling with their son before handing off the keys to his new car. Whether or not they did, no parent wants for their kid to be in a situation where they need to put that advice to use. What was supposed to be a rite of passage for an American teen has now been turned into fear, confusion and outrage for Micah.

Judging by the premiere, Queen Sugar is continuing to tell an honest, nuanced portrayal of the plight of a modern-day black Southern family — with all the beauty and struggle that goes along with it.

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