Tracee Ellis Ross reflects on saying a 'beautiful' goodbye to Black-ish
In her own words, Tracee Ellis Ross processes the end of her long-running ABC sitcom (final episodes airing Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT):
In this industry, sometimes people say, "I wrote this part for you." I've heard that multiple times. In fact, I remember there was once a casting breakdown and it said, "Looking for a Tracee Ellis Ross type," but they would not even see me. The journey of being a Black woman in Hollywood, to keep rising above other people's limited ideas of who I should be and what kind of roles I should be playing, has been interesting.
You see, I did very well on Girlfriends. I can't say that I did as well as many of my counterparts who'd done eight years on a successful show, but I'd saved well and not overspent. But I also was in a position where the money was starting to disappear, so I accepted an offer to fly to New York for a paid speaking engagement. I was there already when they told me that Black-ish creator Kenya Barris apparently "wrote this part for you," and that week was my only chance to audition back in L.A. I needed that speaking money, so I had to decide if I was willing to eat the cost of the flights and not get paid.
I was also hesitant about playing a mother. I was not one in real life. I still am not one. And 10 years ago I wasn't sure if I'd be able to hold on to my identity enough that I would continue to book great roles and not be carted off on the canoe to nowhere as an "older mother."
But I fell in love with the script. We got to see a Black family that was thriving and not just surviving. And I was drawn to this loving relationship between a couple. I had rarely seen that on sitcoms — there wasn't just constant eye-rolling. And Rainbow was a woman who was more than just one thing: She was not just a wife. She was not just a mother. She was also a doctor. She had a real point of view.
So I took the leap of faith, got on a flight back from New York in the middle of a snowstorm, and prayed, "Please get me home on time." I was so tired that I fell asleep outside the audition. But I walked in that room and look at me now.
After eight seasons, we're now saying a beautiful goodbye. I say "beautiful" because Girlfriends, which also went eight seasons, did not have a proper goodbye. (We ended during the writers' strike, without knowing we were ending. We never even had a wrap party.) So to be able to walk into the end of this show, I'm left with so much joy and pride. I really loved dancing with my onscreen husband, Anthony Anderson. And it was the honor of my life to witness and be a part of these beautiful children growing up before our eyes — these talented individuals who became wonderful young adults while we were on the show.
And I grew as well. I became a better person. Black-ish was an opportunity for me to be free and to shine and to embody all my values; to be able to strive for a level of excellence in the work that I do, and how I interact with the people that I work with, and to be of service and fight for equity and joy on a daily basis.
I don't take it lightly, the cultural value and importance of our show. It's not lost on me that we were thriving for eight years within a system that really isn't designed to bring shows like Black-ish into people's homes.
The most rewarding feedback I've gotten is from people who come up to me at the airport and say, "My teenager will not do anything with me, but we watch Black-ish together. And when the show goes off, I get like 10, 12 minutes of conversation with them about whatever you guys did on the show." They're people of all ethnicities, cultures, traditions — and they see themselves in the Johnsons. That, to me, is when entertainment translates into changing culture, changing hearts and minds.
It's been such an honor to do that for eight years.
A version of this story appears in the February issue of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands Jan. 21 and available to order here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.