Tracee Ellis Ross Still Believes In 'Black-Ish' Despite Network Battles, Allegations Against Her Co-Star And More

Tracee Ellis Ross is Emmy nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy for her role in Black-ish. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

By Jonathan Shifflett with Marialexa Kavanaugh

Their creator just left for Netflix. Their network allegedly chose not to air a politically charged episode. And lead Anthony Anderson faces allegations of sexual assault, currently being reviewed by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office.

But Black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross remains excited and hopeful for the family sitcom's fifth season.

For those who haven't seen it, Ross plays Bow, an accomplished doctor, mother and wife. The role has landed Ellis an Emmy nomination this year for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy — it's her third nomination, though she has yet to win.

While he's left ABC for Netflix, show creator Kenya Barris remains an executive producer on Black-ish. While he'll be less involved, Ross believes the show will honor his legacy and carry on just fine.

"He established something that is now in our bones and in our DNA," Ross said. "Whether we like it or not, it's there. And he's around if we need to call him. "

Barris based the show on his own family — his wife is also a doctor named Rainbow. He made tackling serious issues like racial bias a key component of the show.

Last season, the network cancelled an episode allegedly about black NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem. Ross said she doesn't have any issues with ABC after the network decided not to air the episode.

"I think our network has been extremely supportive. The specifics of what happened around that 'kneeling episode,' honestly, I have stayed out of it," Ross said. "Obviously a lot went down. But my take on it has really been that I don't know how constructive, or helpful, or useful it is for me to have information that perhaps might upset me, that I really can't do anything about."

In addition to her acting on the show, Ross directed an episode of season 4 called "53 percent" — one of the season's (and arguably the show's) most critical turning points. It tackled one of the show's trickiest topics: the faltering marriage between Bow and Anderson's Dre.

"For me, the challenging part of this episode is that it was the beginning of a four-episode arc, and we were doing something we hadn't done before," Ross said of the emotionally charged climax of the season. "Usually, whatever we're diving into is outside of the relationship, and the core of the show is our love and enjoying of each other. And that is what was pulling apart in the episode I directed."

She remains focused on doing what the show does best: addressing real issues, especially underrepresented ones. In one episode titled "Post-Partum," the show explored Bow's depression after giving birth to her fifth baby.

"To deal with any sort of mental health, mental illness in the black community — I felt really proud of our show for opening the box, especially on 'Post-Partum,' in a way that you just don't see on television, and you rarely see with black families, and is really important in the black community," Ross said.

We'll see whether Ross wins that Emmy at the awards show on Sept. 17, and the new season of Black-ish premieres Oct. 16 on ABC.


You made it! Congrats, you read the entire story, you gorgeous human. This story was made possible by generous people like you. Independent, local journalism costs $$$$$. And now that LAist is part of KPCC, we rely on that support. So if you aren't already, be one of us! Help us help you live your best life in Southern California. Donate now.