Ross takes charge be­hind ‘Black-ish,’ too

USA TODAY International Edition - - LIFE - Patrick Ryan

Tracee El­lis Ross, 45, steps be­hind the cam­era for Tues­day’s episode of ABC’s Black-ish (9 ET/PT), in which par­ents Bow (Ross) and Dre (An­thony An­der­son) hit a rough patch in their mar­riage. The Golden Globe win­ner had a chat with USA TO­DAY about her first TV di­rect­ing gig since UPN’s Girl­friends in 2008, the re­ported exit of Black-ish cre­ator Kenya Bar­ris, and what it was like to dance in a Drake mu­sic video.

Ques­tion: Did you specif­i­cally ask to di­rect this week’s episode, or was it more a mat­ter of schedul­ing?

Tracee El­lis Ross: It was a mat­ter of tim­ing. If I had the op­por­tu­nity to choose my own episode, I def­i­nitely wouldn’t have cho­sen an episode I was as heavy in that ex­plores a new place for our char­ac­ters. The core of our show has been this lov­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween Bow and Dre, and the com­edy has un­folded from that place. We shifted the foun­da­tion and the episode I di­rected was the first of that shift, so it was quite a Her­culean task as an ac­tor and di­rec­tor.

Q: The show is told from Dre’s per­spec­tive. Did you give any notes to the writ­ers about how Bow might han­dle their re­la­tion­ship is­sues?

Ross: Well, the writ­ers are re­ally good. Part of what was im­por­tant to Kenya about how this story un­folded is that this was not a sit­u­a­tion where it was one per­son’s fault or the other. We’re ex­plor­ing the na­ture of what hap­pens in a re­la­tion­ship when things just get rough.

Q: A study pub­lished by San Diego State Uni­ver­sity said that women made up only 28% of be­hind-thescenes roles on TV last sea­son, and that num­ber has ba­si­cally stayed the same for the past decade. Why do you think that area in par­tic­u­lar has seen so lit­tle progress?

Ross: If you look at sta­tis­tics for more than just be­hind the cam­era, but in how women and peo­ple of color are bal­anced in all po­si­tions, there’s a lot of work that’s been done in many of these ar­eas. But there are sys­temic changes that need to oc­cur (in how peo­ple) can get to those power po­si­tions. We have a re­ally won­der­ful bal­ance of eth­nic­i­ties and gen­der, both in the writ­ers’ room and as di­rec­tors. There’s a lot of women on our show and a lot of women of color. Could there be more? Al­ways.

Q: You’ve been a strong pro­po­nent of the Time’s Up and Me Too move­ments. What kinds of changes have you wit­nessed?

Ross: The most tan­gi­ble, ex­pe­ri­en­tial dif­fer­ence for me is feel­ing the col­lec­tive power of women . ... I also see that there’s a slow pro­gres­sion in terms of men, and men un­der­stand­ing a big blind spot on their part. We all have them. Priv­i­lege of any kind comes with a blind spot. And I’m not talk­ing about the most egre­gious of of­fenses — I’m talk­ing about the in­nocu­ous and sort of be­nign things that play into the larger spec­trum of in­equal­ity. Those things are com­ing to light, and men are wak­ing up to the un­con­scious ways that they have been in­volved in that.

Q: There were re­ports that Kenya could be leav­ing ABC for Net­flix. If true, do you have any idea how that would im­pact Black-ish?

Ross: I feel like the ru­mor mill is stronger than the in­for­ma­tion that I have. What I know is that Kenya has es­tab­lished and set up a DNA for our show that can ex­ist with­out many parts of the puz­zle. Is Kenya an in­te­gral part of our show, and did the voice of our show re­ally emerge out of his sin­gu­lar vi­sion? Of course it did, and he is piv­otal in that sense . ... But when shows run for long pe­ri­ods of time, the cre­ator doesn’t al­ways stick around . ... ... You don’t want to lose any mem­ber of the fam­ily be­cause it feels like it changes all the dy­nam­ics. It’s bumpy at first and feels un­com­fort­able, and then you con­tinue.

Q: It was cool to see you pop up in Drake’s new Nice for What video with all these other in­cred­i­ble women, in­clud­ing Issa Rae and Tif­fany Had­dish. How did that come about?

Ross: I’m friendly with Drake, and it was a re­quest that came both through him and the proper chan­nels of the team. The lyrics of the song re­ally felt like it played into a cel­e­bra­tion of women, and I was game . ... Lis­ten, I danced around in a sil­ver-se­quined jump­suit in the desert. I feel I’m at my most em­pow­ered and joy­ful when I am in free move­ment, and I’m a huge fan of Drake’s mu­sic.

Tracee El­lis Ross re­ceived a Golden Globe for “Black-ish.” BOB D’AMICO/ABC

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