Free as TRACE
Fairlady|January/February 2022
Tracee Ellis Ross has found her own path, and it’s one that only she could walk (though she would probably rather sashay or dance). With her signature blend of fun and ferocity, we can’t wait to see what she does next.
SANDRA PARMEE

Tracee Ellis Ross is having a moment – finally! In 2021 she was nominated for an Emmy for her role on the popular US TV series Black-ish (she won a Golden Globe for the same role in 2017) and received a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. She has a TED talk and a hair­ care line, and it has recently become apparent that she can sing too (see 2020’s The High Note). But, most importantly, the past few years have seen her step into her power. She exudes the confidence and joie de vivre of a woman who is comfortable in her own skin. ‘Learning to be me has been a really long journey,’ she says. ‘I tried being small and feeling things in little ways. It took me a long time to get to know myself, to accept myself, and even on some days to really like and love myself. And then it took me a whole other load of years to have the courage to actually live in the world as that person.’

It’s really during the past few years that she has cemented this strong sense of self. It was while starring in Black-ish that ‘I found my voice, she says. ‘It came before, but I really started using it during Black-ish.’ The show first aired in 2014 and ran for an impressive eight seasons (the final season airs this year). Tracee plays the role of Dr. Rainbow ‘Bow’ Johnson, anesthetist and matriarch of the Johnson family. Both a comedy and socio­ political commentary, the show grapples with issues of race and cultural identity. One of the things that drew Tracee to Black-ish was the way it disrupts conventional narratives: ‘There’s a lot that poked holes in the status quo, particularly as a woman of color,’ she says. ‘I’m very conscious about not perpetuating stereotypes…In a scene, if they have written that I’m doing “lady chores” such as the cooking, I’m like, why? It’s not pivotal to the story. Let Dre do the chopping and I’ll stand here at my computer, or drink a glass of wine, or hold a book. I speak up and I drive them crazy sometimes. But in the context of being a black woman on television, I am very aware of what that imagery says and the stereotypes it perpetuates. My interest is in offering other expressions, other examples, other imagery.’

It’s this desire to showcase multiple perspectives that saw Tracee co-create mixed-ish, a prequel to Black-ish that debuted in 2020, in which Tracee narrates the story of Bow’s childhood as the daughter of a black mother and white father growing up in ’80s America. It is partly informed by Tracee’s own experience as the daughter of a black mother and Jewish father. ‘As a mixed person, you’re constantly being bombarded by questions such as, “Are you this, or are you that?”, which is the least interesting part of being mixed,’ Tracee says.

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