Finishing Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile was a doozy. If you are a fan of the OWN show, I’ll let you know right now that this is not that. I enjoy the TV show as much as the next person and usually when I watch the movie or show before I read the book, it influences my expectations and how I view the characters in my head. The only things that are the same between the book and show are names and a sugar cane farm.
But I want to talk about Antiheros today. There might be some spoilers in here today.
In the classic story formula, there is a protagonist and an antagonist that are clearly outlined. There is a clear designation of who we are supposed to cheer for and who we are supposed to wish for their demise. What happens when those lines get blurry?
I feel like TV shows do a better job than books at blurring the lines between protagonists and antagonists (movies can sometimes). We can see character arcs stretched out longer over time, and I am a sucker for a good character arc.
I do feel like Queen Sugar, however, did a pretty good job at establishing that character arc for Ralph Angel. From the jump, I could tell he was being set up to be the bad guy. He lies and cheats and steals and does drugs and blah blah blah. He has an inflated sense of ego and a quick temper. Clear antagonist, right?
But have you seen someone evil love their son and just wants to provide the best for him? If his grandmother can love him and see his light, why can’t we?
There is no doubt that some of Ralph Angel’s actions were despicable and his pride undisputedly gets the best of him over and over. As I was reading, I thought many times, “Really dude? This is clearly the wrong thing to do.” It is easy to place our own moral judgement on him.
Ralph Angel has also without a doubt had a rough childhood. He experienced neglect and possibly has some mental health concerns that may be genetic. He was conditioned to be the way he is as a form of survival and coping.
By no means am I saying that his upbringing justifies his behavior and choices. Lots of people have messed up childhoods and they treat people a lot better. We should examine their pasts as a way of extending empathy and understanding, while also holding them accountable (something Ralph Angel’s family did either/or and not both/and).
And we’re supposed to praise Charlie, the hard working, self-sacrificing black woman. Charlie is a good person, but her stubbornness has caused her to make some bad decisions. There are times she put the farm over family, which I don’t agree with. I feel like the book did a good job of showing her imperfections to make her more human.
And then there’s Hollywood’s pure soul. But his perfection comes in the manner of he’s the person no one wants to be, and he wants to be no one except himself.
Humans are messy, not capable of being all good or all bad. We have to remember that when extending empathy and forgiveness to those who our society thinks doesn’t deserve it.