The Inclusive: Okay, so 80% of the media in the world is made in the United States. It’s mostly a very negative view of women that we create and send around the world. Why do we care?
Tracee Ellis Ross: We care because the images that we see influence not only how we feel about ourselves. But the images that all of us see influence how we treat each other, and how policy is formed, and how ideas are built. So, you know, culture influences policy and I think the stories we tell, how we tell them, and how women are portrayed — how anyone is portrayed, honestly — influences how we think about them.
TI: And how does that affect a two year old girl?
TER: Well, I’ll just use Black Panther as an example. I was really moved by the idea that Black Panther is allowing a younger generation to go to an action film and see the beauty of what it is to be a person of color, to be a black person in this country both culturally in the clothing, in the dress, in the hair, in the styles, in the skin, in our body type. All of it. And young black children and young white children start to identify in a different way what a hero looks like. And it expands your understanding of what’s possible for you. And that changes how you go about dreaming.
TI: How did you feel when you watched Black Panther?
TER: Well, I mean, I started crying when I first started watching. When the movie first started, that first moment when they rescue Lupita, I know that’s not her name in the movie. But I thought to myself, my goodness, why have I not been told over and over again how beautiful we are?
This, I was just like, oh my God, like it was the same way I felt when I saw the Nina Simone documentary. I was like this is beauty. This is what it is. This is not pretty. This is beauty. This is depth. This is a woman who’s in her skin, and in her body, and in her power, and in her gift, and in her joy. And even within her sadness she is within her joy because she is expressing herself to the fullness of who she is. And we don’t see women like that as a norm in our culture.
And I find it exhausting and I also, when those moments come, I feel like I sit up a little bit stronger, a little bit taller, and I understand who I am a little bit better. I understand what I come from a little bit more and that helps me to move forward in the world with a larger scope, you know.
I think of the television shows that I responded to as I was growing up. When I look back, I’m like no wonder I became the woman I am today. I was like, let see, Lucy, Carol Burnett, Wonder Woman, the Charlie’s Angels, Sabrina was my gal, Bionic Woman. I think of all of these strong women that could leap over buildings. They could save people. They could be humorous and beautiful and glamourous. Of course, I became a woman that was pieces of all of that because I got to see what was possible.
TI: That’s amazing. Blackish. The idea that she can see it, she can be it. Do you get those kind of reactions from people from that show? I mean, women seeing themselves on the screen.
TER: They do and part of that is really what I have made a conscious effort to bring to that role.
On Blackish, I just make a conscious effort to make sure that Rainbow Johnson is not just wife wallpaper. And that she is a full woman who has a full life and that her importance and her selfhood is gained from all aspects of her and not just one or the other. It’s not interesting that she is a wife, that she is a doctor, that she is a mother. It’s interesting that she is all of those things. And that is a reflection of what so many women are. And you know, for example, my character made history with the Emmy nomination, the Golden Globe nomination and what was fascinating to me as a black woman is all those years had passed without a black woman being nominated as a lead actress in a comedy and I think to myself I know so many women and so many black women who are the leads in their lives.
Why is that not reflected on television? Why is that not being reflected in that way? We just have to do better. And the same way that sexism, Time’s Up, misogyny is not a question just for women, how do we fix it? Racism and diversity and inclusion in entertainment and media is not just a question for the diverse. It is a question for everybody. How do we tell stories that actually reflect the fabric or our lives? And if culture is going, as we know it does, influence policy. It takes 10 to 15 years, but if the stories that we tell and the narratives that we share actually reflect, influence how we see ourselves and how we respond and take care of each other, then we have to make sure we do a better job of representing that.