Tracee Ellis Ross Talks ‘Black-ish,’ Winning a Golden Globe, Emmy Nomination

Tracee Ellis Ross Interview Variety
Bryce Duffy for Variety

When “Black-ish” star Tracee Ellis Ross won the Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy or musical TV series in January, she became the first black woman since Debbie Allen of “Fame” in 1982 to win in that category. Next month, Ross has a second shot at history. If she takes the Emmy for comedy actress, she’ll be the first black woman to do so since “The Jeffersons” actress Isabel Sanford in 1981.

What did it mean to win the Golden Globe?

The magnitude of the larger historical context took it out of my personal feelings and into the larger spectrum of what we as an industry and what we as a culture are saying. Diversity and inclusion are still a question because they have not been answered. We are not, as an industry and as a culture, doing a good enough job of telling balanced stories of who we are as a people. So that Golden Globe moment really was more about that to me.

Do awards like yours signify change, or do they mask lack of progress in other areas?

It’s a combination. Awards mean something and they don’t mean something. They’re important, but not for the reasons that people want to assign to them. Do they validate who people are as humans or decide whose work is better than someone else’s? I don’t really know. But in terms of what they mean in the context of our business, and how importance is assigned to this story versus another, and how that translates into what stories get told — they are incredibly important.

When you started “Black-ish,” there hadn’t been a black family comedy on broadcast in five years.

That’s not great. And look, we’re talking about a black family. What about a Middle Eastern family, a Latina family, a gay family? Our culture is filled with a whole bunch of delicious texture.

Were you conscious of the lack of anything else like the show on the air?

It was one of the things that was interesting to me. This show was telling the story of a family that didn’t just happen to be black but that actually was black. This is not just about a pot roast falling on the floor. We’re talking about police brutality, gun control, the N-word, preeclampsia, being biracial, taking your husband’s name or not, being a feminist in this culture and what that means as a black woman. These are extraordinary subjects for an authentic family — which is different from the way we usually see these kinds of people portrayed on television.

Things you didn’t know about Tracee Ellis Ross

BIRTHPLACE: Los Angeles ALMA MATER: Brown University KANYE WEST VIDEOS IN WHICH SHE APPEARED: “The New Workout Plan,” “Touch the Sky” WOULD SHE DO A “GIRLFRIENDS” REVIVAL? “I’m totally open to it.”

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