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
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.”
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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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