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'Queens' Director On New Series and Black Female Representation

Queens is one of the most talked-about new shows of this still-young television season. The ABC melodrama tells the story of a former all-female rap group from the 1990s that reunites two decades after their acrimonious breakup. Boasting the star power of Eve, Brandy, and Naturi Naughton, the series draws on some of the most iconic women in Hip-Hop, as well as the personal experiences of it's platinum-selling cast. Producing director Crystle "Clear" Roberson was tapped to bring these queens and their story to life, and RTB's Dorissa White sat down with Roberson to discuss what makes Queens such an intriguing project.

DW

Queens has been an absolute hit on Twitter! I was trying to keep up with my timeline because everybody was talking about it. Did you think it was going to resonate with so many people?

CCR

You know, I'll be honest: the first time I heard about the concept of the show and in the cast, I was like, "oh, that's a hit." I knew it. I just knew it. Like most shows, I don't know, and I'm like, "oh, I got to see, I wonder how it's going to go." But, I just kinda knew. Who can resist Brandy's rapping? Eve's rapping, Naturi Naughton doing her thing. She's always great to watch. I kind of felt like it was going to be good.

DW

Brandy is like my absolute favorite person. I've loved Brandy since I was a little girl. She's so beautiful. And so when I saw her, I was like “oh my gosh! This is my show now!" Where did you draw inspiration from? And is there like a specific group or artist that you sought to reference?

CCR

I'm not one of the creators of the show, I'm the producing director. So when I'm directing, I pull from a lot of different people in terms of inspiration: Salt N' Pepa, Eve, SWV, Queen Latifah, Nicki Minaj, Eve herself, Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown.

DW

How did you get involved with Queens?

CCR

It was really interesting. I'm usually a guest director of television shows, so I go to different shows and direct episodes here and there. And I thought that when I interviewed with Queens showrunners, [Zahir] McGhee and Sabrina Wind, the producer. I met with them on a Zoom and I thought I was interviewing for just an episode of Queens. And I was like, yo, this is going to be a hit! A dope show. I really want to be a part of it." And they were like, "well, how would you feel about being a producing director?” And I was like "Of this show!? Absolutely! It would be over the moon!" So the interview just took a turn. It took a pivot into that direction. And I was just really genuinely excited about the subject matter, the cast, the characters you know, everything. And it turned into this amazing opportunity.

DW

How did you get started in the television industry?

CCR

I went to school at Valdosta State University in south Georgia, and then I went to film school, but I was hearing that you don't really have to have a master's degree of film just to work in the film industry. You're still gonna have to start from the bottom and work your way up. I had been a photographer since I was in high school. I had always known kind of how to tell a story with pictures. So, I got into motion, pictures, movies, and I got really passionate about it. I started off as a production assistant, but I was always filming my own short films and stuff like that on the side, like on the weekends, with my friends from set, we would just get together and shoot as much as possible. I was doing that and working, I just literally worked my way up, I'm definitely one of those "started from the bottom now we here" people.

DW

I love that. What does it mean for you as a black female director and producer to have your hand in a series like this?

CCR

To me, it says a lot about the creators and the producers of the show who knew that it's important to have the representation of a black woman as a producer on the show, as a director on the show. It means a lot because there are particular nuances that the cast can know. They know that I understand. It's an unspoken thing sometimes between women, when you understand, and they know that you understand, and they feel safe and they feel heard and they feel like they can come to me with anything. For me and for them, that's a really big deal. And I'm really happy that. The producers, ABCeveryone knew that it was necessary to have a Black woman as a producer on the show.

DW

Yeah. Kind of like an example for a lot of black females are growing up. You're kind of paving the way.

CCR

Yeah, it's really amazing because I always love to tell people I'm from a small town in Georgia. I'm from Macon, Georgia. It does not matter where you're from. It doesn't matter. You don't have to be from New York or LA or Chicago or any big city just to be successful. As long as you have a story, you have something to say and you have a specific point of view and you know how to communicate that, and you're ready to work hard for it and go after it. It's yours, you know, and I always want to be the example of that person. I'm just a little girl from Macon, Georgia, and I made all my dreams come true. Literally, it's amazing. So I always want to leave people with that. You can do whatever you want to do if you really set out to do it, for sure.

DW

You are living the dream. What is the main theme that you hope viewers take away from the show?

CCR

I'm so glad you asked that question because what I just said in terms of being able to do anything you want to do, Queens picks up in the pilot, 20 years after this group broke up and they're all in different parts of their lives. They're all 20 years older. Some of them have children, families they're going through different things. And I think one of the biggest things that I pull from Queens is it does not matter how old you are, how far removed your dream is. 'I had this dream 20 years ago and now it's never going to happen.' none of that matters. Anything can happen in life if you desire it and you want to go after it, it can happen. So I love how we meet our Queens 20 years after this big breakup of their group, and they pull it back together. All their friendships are a little flawed. There's some drama that happened in the past. They have to work all of that stuff out and figure out how to come back together and do this thing together. So I love the sisterhood of it. The friendship of it. I love that it's telling people you're never too old or too far removed to achieve your dreams, you know?

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DW

Wow. That was so crazy. That was literally my next question. I was going to say, a lot of young people who are watching this show, they have this mentality that success ends in their twenties. Especially generation Z. I watch Tik Tok a lot, and a lot of people are like, 'before I get 30, before I get 30', a lot of people put so much pressure on themselves in their twenties. What advice would you give people in their twenties who are watching the show? And they see these women that are in their forties still having success, people are still resonating with their music. What would you say?

CCR

Yeah, I mean, it's interesting because, in my twenties I was that way, too. I felt like I needed to succeed as soon as possible. Now that I'm in my thirties and I realized the wisdom that I have at this age is much more. This is the wisdom that I would rather give to the world. The knowledge that I've acquired going through what I went through in my twenties, going through ups and downs, all of that stuff, I'm able to bring to what it is that I do, and it makes my job easier. It makes it better. It makes other people able to trust me more because they know I've been through it. Versus like being in your early twenties, having never gone through a lot yet in life. A lot of older, more experienced actors need to feel like they're talking to another person who has gone through some things. So the older you get, the better seasoned you are in terms of just your experiences and your ability to tell stories. And it's not that young people can't tell those stories, it's just that I found that I'm able to better put all of my experiences from all of my years into this. And just practice over time.

I mean, practice takes time. Directing is a muscle, it doesn't just come out fully formed and strong. Like you have to work at it just like you have to do everything else. So the more time you have the better you're going to be the more confident you're going to be and age brings confidence. I would say don't be in a big rush to do what it is that you really want to do for the rest of your life anyway. You're going to be doing it for the rest of your life. So don't be in a big rush. Know that you're being properly seasoned and flavored for the opportunity.

DW

That's amazing advice. And it actually helped me too. What has been the most gratifying thing working on the show and I mean, I know just jumped on board, but like what so far?

CCR

You know what? I really, really love this cast. I have to say this is a dream cast to work with. I grew up on -like my teenage years- on Eve. She was hands down, my favorite female rapper at one point in my life, her and Lauryn Hill. So, Eve and Brandy. I'm still like, “I'm a producer on the show?” I'm still such a fan. I grew up listening to Brandy's song "Brokenhearted," which literally helped heal my heart. Like, helped me through all the breakups in my life. She's been my big sister in a way. Working with those types of people who you grew up with is a dream. It's simply a dream and they're soEve's so super cool. Got all the swag in the world that you would expect her to have. And Brandy is like the sweetest person. And the rest of the cast are so talented and they care so much about this show. They have have really been a dream to work with. They really have. Naturi is such a pro she has so much experience that she brings and you can give her one directing note and she's like, "I got it." I mean, she's just so good. All the way to Taylor Sele who plays the manager of the group, he's phenomenal. Getting to work with Pepi and Nadine Velazquez they're just really amazing people, like I said, they just care a lot about it .Super talented and professional. I think, honestly, that has been the highlight for me, for sure.

Working on a show like Queens and beyond has been the music, it's been the performances. It's been the fact that we got Swiss Beatz somewhere, whipping up beats and lyrics. You know, it's sincerely dope. It's not cheesy. It's not corny. It's like, yo, like I would really bump this, you know? And I respect a lot of the music. I think a lot of the crew enjoys that.

DW

I agree. When I was listening to the little cipher, when they were all in a circle, I was like, "Okay!, this is something I would actually listen to!" I know you can't give out any hints, but is there going to be any major musical talent that we might see--either from the nineties or now?

CCR

Yeah. I think one is already out of the bag with Cam'ron. Him and Brandy were doing these funny, funny videos on Instagram and it was hilarious, but yes, we have some really big people. I'm going to say one of the top five dead or alive coming on the show. So like, I don't want to give that away yet, but definitely stay tuned for that. Cause like we have some real serious hip hop music artists that are coming to join us on the show and they've been phenomenal. Sometimes you cast music people, or people in the music industry, and you're not sure. Are they actors, are they going to be able to deal with our schedule? Because we work so long, crazy hours, but they have been coming in and killing it. It's been so good. So we've been really lucky there. I'm so excited.

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