Actress Tracee Ellis Ross has been in the entertainment business for years — from her work in "The Lyricist Lounge Show", the ensemble sitcom "Girlfriends", and her current Golden Globe-winning role as Dr. Rainbow "Bow" Johnson in the ABC comedy "Black-ish".
Ross talks about processing a global pandemic and witnessing protests for racial justice nationwide and what the current moment can mean for Black narratives and representation in Hollywood.
"I feel very encouraged about what is happening right now. It also feels untenable and destabilizing," she says. "But there are real structures in place and systems in place that continue to keep things as they are. And they need to change."
She also shares her frustration with an ageist Hollywood.
"We still live in a world where ageism, sexism, racism, they are alive and well,'" Ross tells Sam. Yet she points to the example set by other women she admires. "Look at Michelle Obama. Look at my mom. Look at Jennifer Lopez. Look at Sanaa Lathan. Look at Gabrielle Union."
Ross says the way women are treated across different industries makes her ask one question: "Why you get to a certain age and you stop dreaming?"
In the current climate, Hollywood insiders expect to see more Black narratives, which, to Ross, is long overdue.
“Look at our world, guys! Look at what this looks like! We've been here! By the way, this is the other thing I always say in terms of hair, I'm like, we've been beautiful forever! Our hair's been coming out of our heads like this forever. This is not new. Black girl magic might be a new term, but it's an old experience,” she said. “It's the same thing I said and what I meant at the Golden Globes like it might be, have been, 35 years since a Black woman was nominated or won. But it has not been 35 years since a Black woman has been the lead in her life. That is, that is not new information we have been — it's lovely to see yourself in that way. But we've been here being incredible forever. Telling our stories, being our stories, being in our lives, running our lives, doing our lives. So that's not new.”
In “The High Note,” Ross sings on-screen and produced seven demos during production, but she didn’t tell her mom, icon Diana Ross, about the singing until she felt confident about her performance. “I didn't tell her I was singing in the movie, [but] not on purpose, I just didn't,” she said. “Finally, after we had recorded enough of the demo tracks and I felt like I was kind of gaining my footing a little bit, I was like, 'Mom, I'm ready for you to hear.' She's like, 'What?' And I was like, 'The song.' She was like, 'OK.' So, by then she knew, and I picked her up in my car. Listening to music in the car is always great because you're in sort of, you know, an enclosed space with speakers.”
“So, I picked her up. We sat in my car in her driveway. And she sat in the passenger seat. And we were holding hands on the, you know, the little thing in between the armrest. And then she finally — you know, she's got a lot of hair. So I couldn't see her face when she was looking for it. And then she kind of finally turned to me and her face is covered in tears. And she just looked at me and said, 'Finally.'”