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EXCLUSIVE: ‘Black-ish’ Star Tracee Ellis Ross Stands Her Ground in Season Two

by Stacy Lambe 12:32 AM PDT, June 14, 2016
Photo: Getty Images

As Dr. Rainbow “Bow” Johnson on the ABC series, Black-ish, Tracee Ellis Ross has redefined what it means to be a working mother on television. Bow is her own woman.

She doesn’t hold a glass of wine or a basket of laundry. She doesn’t drop the pot roast and fret about getting it cleaned up before dinner. She didn’t take her husband’s -- Andre “Dre” Johnson played by Anthony Anderson -- last name after the couple got married.

“The episode was monumental in terms of women and wives on television,” Ross tells ET, revealing she was happy to see more feminist storylines this season. “That I found really exciting, working with the dialogue and adding my point of view in there.” 

“I know that our show is called Black-ish, so there's a lot of talk about the race episodes that we do that actually head-on deal with race and how this family is navigating that,” Ross says. “But the truth is we also deal with gender roles in a marriage in a way that I think is really groundbreaking for television. They make space for me to do that as a character.”

MORE: Tracee Ellis Ross Recalls the 'Most Moving' Moment of Her Mother Diana in 'The Wiz'

And in season two, Ross says that the entire cast and crew really settled into what they were doing on the show and who the characters are. “It’s like day old leftovers that get better on day two, like chili gets better. The food gets a chance to talk to each other,” she explains, giving credit to the writers for setting up a strong foundation that the cast could build from. “The scripts had a lot more trust in them, both in the sense of who we are as characters and what the show's messaging is.”

The trust and time (“If it’s a good show, time does help,” Ross says) allowed them, as a show, to have the courage to tackle real issues in a way that still serviced the character-based, multi-generational comedy. “These are nuanced, intelligent conversations around subject matters that are complicated and textured, that people are extremely passionate about,” she says, pointing to hot topic episodes, such as “The Word” and “Hope,” the latter of which dealt with police brutality in the wake of incidents that have divided America and launched the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the episode, Bow and Dre have varying perspectives on how much they should tell their kids about a case involving an African-American teenager the family watched on TV. “I’m not ready for them to think and see the world the way that you do,” Bow tells her husband at one point.

For Ross, “Hope” was a particular challenge to film, pushing her to grow within her craft. “That was fascinating for me as a human being and as an actor to play a point of view that was less nuanced than mine,” she explains. “And that was a growth opportunity for me as an actor. How do I infuse truth into this very real moment and still allow space for comedic relief in the midst of it?”

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In fact, what audiences didn’t see were tears running down Ross’ face as she stood off-screen while Anderson filmed his scenes. “We hold each other in those moments, so he has the room to do all the things he does the same way he does for me,” she says. “I was right there with him, crying.”

She credits the team, though, for providing a support system to allow her to work through her own views. “We do know where we each stand and how we feel about it,” Ross says. “They all worked with me working through the fact that I had to hold back a lot of what I feel about police brutality in this country. The only way to hold it back is that I got to share it with them. I got to say, ‘This is so uncomfortable for me.’”

“I think that’s part of the texture we all get to bring to this show,” Ross says.

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