She’s played doctor, wife and mother Rainbow Johnson on “Black-ish” for six seasons, and leading lady Tracee Ellis Ross takes her comedic character seriously.
That’s why when she’s asked to act out a tired old TV trope — like the one where a woman always does the housework — she doesn’t let it slide.
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Ross recently was a guest on the Los Angeles Times' “Can’t Stop Watching” podcast and opened up about how she handles that situation on the set of the beloved sitcom.
“I’m a person that if something starts to snag me as ‘this is wrong, this does not feel right,’ I cannot help it — I cannot be in my body, and you don’t want to be around me — I’ve got to say it,” the 47-year-old explained. “I’ve always been that person.”
And she’s definitely used her voice to question scenes on “Black-ish.”
“What I did speak up about from the beginning was, ‘Why am I carrying laundry?’” she recalled. “‘Why am I the person in the kitchen cooking right now when this has nothing to do with the scene?’ Even sometimes when it does have something to do with the scene, and I started coining them as ‘lady chores.’ ‘Why am I doing the lady chores?’ Can Anthony (Anderson) do the lady chore?’”
After all, Anderson, who plays husband Dre, co-leads the on-screen household, and Ross only calls them “lady chores” to point out the hypocrisy.
“I think they’re house chores,” she continued. “I believe every relationship is a negotiation between two people about what each of them feel comfortable doing, and I think the more that we portray that on television, the more that that becomes the reality out in the world.”
But she’s not exactly criticizing the series that she’s earned four Emmy nominations working on. She’s just revealing how far she goes to make it better — because of how much she cares about the show.
“I fell in love with the idea on ‘Black-ish’ that this was a couple that was in love with each other,” she said. “That this was an American family, but we were a Black family. We weren’t a family that happened to be Black; we were a Black family. And those things were incredibly exciting to me.
“The fact that this was a couple that loved each other and liked each other, and that the comedy that was at the core of the show was not based in two people that didn’t like each other, that was going to play into the tropes that always exist of the nagging wife and the husband that can’t do what he wants because the wife is always nagging.”
Because, as she went on to explain, “That kind of comedy, between a couple, to me, doesn’t continue to expand our understanding of the male and female roles.”
That’s important to her — and to others who may see themselves in her character.
“I always take a bird’s-eye view and look back at the context of television, at the context of being a woman on television, at the context of being a Black woman on television, and how can we tell a fuller story,” Ross added.
That prompted podcast host Yvonne Villarreal to praise the star’s response to the issue of small-screen gender dynamics and offer up one great idea: “Please give a TED Talk on this topic!”