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Oprah Winfrey And 'Selma' Director Ava DuVernay Team Up For A Series

Oprah Winfrey and director Ava DuVernay, seen here in November of last year, are collaborating on a new drama series for Winfrey's network, OWN. Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI hide caption

toggle caption Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI

Oprah Winfrey and director Ava DuVernay, seen here in November of last year, are collaborating on a new drama series for Winfrey's network, OWN.

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for AFI

The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) has yet to find its Mad Men or Transparent — the show that will make it an instant player the way those shows did for AMC and Amazon. But today, they announced that later this year, production will begin on a scripted drama series inspired by the Natalie Baszile novel Queen Sugar, on which Oprah Winfrey will collaborate with Ava DuVernay, the director of Best Picture nominee Selma. The story is about a woman living in Los Angeles who moves to her father's 800-acre sugar cane farm in Louisiana after his death.

According to the announcement, DuVernay and Winfrey will both be executive producers, DuVernay will write and direct, and Winfrey will have a recurring role — the first time she's acted in an OWN series.

Shortly after the news broke, DuVernay tweeted that she sees herself walking in the footsteps of a lot of other celebrated film directors who have found longform television liberating.

While the success of Jill Soloway's Transparent has been a promising sign, the prestige-television revolution has been, for the most part, a deep and gorgeous but narrow one in some respects: Maureen Ryan at the Huffington Post crunched some very depressing numbers early last year about the dearth of women and people of color among creators at some of the top cable networks turning out drama series. But if this felt like a gesture primarily undertaken to address that issue, it wouldn't generate the interest it already has.

What it seems like instead is just a really smart and savvy — and pretty logical — collaboration between a network that could use a project high enough in profile to potentially put its stamp on cable drama and a top-flight director who, in her own words, sees television as a path to creative freedom that's already been taken by many of the best directors we have. (DuVernay has directed television before; in fact, she directed an episode of Scandal not long ago.) Ava DuVernay did some beautiful work in Selma, and so — in a limited role — did Oprah Winfrey. It will be fascinating to see what they come up with.

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