Ava DuVernay is tied to the characters of Queen Sugar in ways few would know.
The superstar director and creator of the hit OWN series opened up during a talk with the cast at Essence Fest last weekend, revealing how the show—and particularly the lupus storyline—hits close to home, as she herself has the autoimmune disease.
The series follows the complicated lives of three siblings and their extended family in rural Louisiana. Of sisters Nova, played by Rutina Wesley, and Charley, played by Dawn-Lyen Gardner, DuVernay told PEOPLE, “Nova and Charley are the two halves of me.”
“Charley is like ‘I’ll fix it, I’m gonna get it done.’ That’s totally me.” And for Nova, she said, “She’s me also, an activist, trying to make the world a little bit of a better place, but sometimes makes mistakes. I don’t have a white cop boyfriend [like her], but you never know!”
But the director, 46, revealed that there is one character whose storyline is particularly “very personal” to her. When asked by The Root‘s Corey Townsend why she chose to give the character Violet (known as ‘Aunt Vi’) the autoimmune disease lupus, DuVernay made a powerful revelation.
“I’ve never been asked that question directly, so I’ve never had the opportunity to tell anyone that I have lupus and that’s why I put it in,” she shared.
“I’ve been in remission for 20 years, but I did want to make sure that we create spaces to talk about it. We wanted to really give that chronic illness to Vi and show you can live and you can battle through it, you can continue to thrive, but you have to manage it.”
And DuVernay—who’s in the midst of season 4 of Queen Sugar and fresh off of making history with her hit Netflix series When They See Us—is doing just that.
“It’s something I’ve been able to manage and live with and thrive,” she said. “It’s really given me strength in a lot of different ways and so hopefully her character going through it as well will help people know they can do the same.”
Queen Sugar airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on OWN Network
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