Tracee Ellis Ross Hits 'The High Note' Amid Racism and Sexism : It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders Actress Tracee Ellis Ross has been acting for years — from the early 2000s sitcom 'Girlfriends' to her Golden Globe winning role on ABC's 'Black-ish.' She talks to Sam about pushing back against Black stereotypes on and off-screen, pursuing success at any age, finding Black joy during a tumultuous time, and sharing her singing work in her latest film 'The High Note' with her mother, music legend Diana Ross.
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Tracee Ellis Ross Continues To Hit 'The High Note' In A Sexist and Racist World

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Tracee Ellis Ross Continues To Hit 'The High Note' In A Sexist and Racist World

Tracee Ellis Ross Continues To Hit 'The High Note' In A Sexist and Racist World

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SAM SANDERS, HOST:

So I have something in common with Tracee Ellis Ross - yes, the actress and comedian and now singer.

TRACEE ELLIS ROSS: This is my buddy.

SANDERS: You're hiding behind one of the leaves.

ELLIS ROSS: My thriving fiddle-leaf fig, yeah.

SANDERS: Tracee Ellis Ross and I both have fiddle-leaf fig plants in our homes, and we both talk to those plants daily.

What's their name?

ELLIS ROSS: She doesn't have a name, but she is - she has identified herself as female. The other day, she dropped a giant leaf on my head, and it did not look like that leaf was ready to drop off. I think she was just trying to get my attention.

SANDERS: Tracee has been leaning into that friendship with her plant, and I have as well with mine, as we both try to figure out this weird moment of social distancing and isolation. Tracee told me she's learning a lot of things about herself right now, and she's sharing those things on social media.

ELLIS ROSS: I can be OK with discomfort. Like, just because - and by the way, people saying that they have been bored during this pandemic, I'm like who? Where? And where do you find that thing called boredom? 'Cause...

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: I don't know about you, but there's floors to mop. There's always something to do...

SANDERS: Come on, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...That has to get done.

SANDERS: You got time to lean, you got time to clean.

ELLIS ROSS: I'm - hey, there you go. I've never heard that, but I'm with it. I'm snapping, Sam.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: You're listening to IT'S BEEN A MINUTE from NPR. I'm Sam Sanders. And this episode, a wide-ranging conversation with the one and only Tracee Ellis Ross. I've been watching her on screen for years, from the sketch comedy "The Lyricist Lounge Show" to her sitcom "Girlfriends"...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GIRLFRIENDS")

ELLIS ROSS: (As Joan Clayton) I don't even know why I'm entertaining advice from you guys.

SANDERS: ...To ABC's "Black-ish," a show that got her a Golden Globe.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "BLACK-ISH")

ELLIS ROSS: (As Rainbow Johnson) Oh, God. I should've just told him, go to hell, Dr. Jerk. But I'm a people pleaser.

SANDERS: On top of all of that, Tracee is a businesswoman. She owns Pattern Beauty. It's a hair care company for curly hair. And most recently, she played the lead in the new movie "The High Note." And in this film, she sings.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE MYSELF (THE HIGH NOTE)")

ELLIS ROSS: (Singing) I forget when I was younger, it was easy.

SANDERS: We talk about her work and the purpose behind all of it and what it's like to be a Black creative right now in 2020 still finding room for joy in spite of all the struggles of this year. All right, let's get to it. This is a fun chat. You'll enjoy it. By the way, you'll hear some leaf blowers over at Tracee's house at the start of this interview because she's stuck at home like the rest of us. All right. Enjoy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: It has been refreshing to see you have that candor about how you're living your life right now. You know, when I was thinking about, you know, getting used to this new normal...

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...I, for one, thought I was used to the coronavirus normal, and then the protests happened. And I'm like, I'm glad this is happening. But literally, it was down the street for me 'cause I live downtown.

ELLIS ROSS: Me too. It was right in my hood.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah.

SANDERS: Oh, man. And then, on top of it, I noticed what happened with the protests is that every interaction I've been having with my friends and family and loved ones in the last few weeks has been different, especially with my white friends and loved ones. It has changed the way in which I speak in the world. Have you felt like that added one more layer of not quite normal on top of the already not quite normal?

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah, and also changed the whole framing and perspective for, oh, my God, this is - why is this happening? This is the worst year ever. And maybe it's - and in many ways, it is a really challenging and unprecedented time. But I also feel very conscious of the transformation that is at our feet and that by design, like, all the work that has been done and is being done.

I also think the pandemic has allowed a receptivity for what's happening right now in a different way, an ability for focus and attention so that there's no distraction on the reality of what's here. And I know that in many ways, a lot of the brutality and violence that we've witnessed most recently is new for a lot of people, but it's also not new for the Black community.

So at first, my thought was - I was heartbroken, then filled with - you know, it's like a jump between heartbreak and rage. And then I kind of moved into a state of anguish, I felt, a real place of - like, I just had no words. And, you know, social media is really interesting because it requires us to sort of perform our process in a way that has - it can be fun. It can be wonderful. It can create community. I think particularly during social movements, it's added a really important layer and dynamic of communication. But it also is performative to a certain extent.

SANDERS: There's pressure to speak about everything all the time.

ELLIS ROSS: Before you've processed, before you've had time to process. And so there was like a full week I was like, I can't find my feet. I don't know if you - like, I just felt like I couldn't find my feet.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: Like, I didn't feel grounded. And I realized, of course I can't find my feet. The foundation is moving underneath us, and that is a good thing. But as you dismantle these structures and as these - this historic rage, oppression, anguish, brutality, like, all of those things start to come be released out of the foundation that we're in, they're also being released through our bodies. And so finding ways to either be in movement, because I felt stuck - I don't know about you - just stuck.

SANDERS: Yeah, I hear you. I hear you.

ELLIS ROSS: You know? So anyway, I could talk about this stuff forever.

SANDERS: No, I love it, yeah. I am so interested in how and what kind of work creatives like yourself make out of this moment. I am sure that the last three months of American life have inspired so many ideas for screenplays or pilots or movies or something. In you just watching the world over the last three months, has it inspired you to make some kind of art out of this? And if so, what would that be? What would that look like, even through the channels we have now?

ELLIS ROSS: You know, it's interesting. The last few months has really just affirmed where my mission has been, you know. It didn't sort of turn up the volume on it. I've - my mission, I feel, has always been around sharing the beauty, the joy, the power of Black women...

SANDERS: OK.

ELLIS ROSS: ...And supporting ownership of our own narratives and the expansion of our equity both on an individual and personal level in how you invest in yourself and have your own power in your own life and inhabit your own skin with freedom and joy, whatever that means for you...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...And also how we do that collectively in the world...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...How we support each other in doing that. So this time, both COVID, the uprising that's occurring now, the protest that's occurring and the shift that is being pushed for and fought for only amplifies that urgency for me.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: It doesn't change that. The most fertile place for me has been through Pattern, my hair company, in all honesty.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: I mean, I also - you know, there's - I'm executive producing - I have about five projects that I'm executive producing, all of which are through that mission. But particularly with Pattern, it's been so exciting because the celebration of a beauty brand that's centered around Blackness, that doesn't change - the urgency of that doesn't change. Being a Black-owned business, the importance and the clarity of vision of that doesn't change.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: Being an active space where we can see ourselves in all of our humanity doesn't change.

SANDERS: Yeah. And, like, Black hair care does not sleep just 'cause of a pandemic or a protest. Got to do your hair.

ELLIS ROSS: No, it does not. You got to do your hair. And by the way, it's one of the ways we get to honor ourselves. It's one of the ways we get to love ourselves. It's one of the ways that we have created, through history, rituals. I mean, Black women and hair have been at the center of movements and economic shifts and elections and political change and all of that. And so it has traveled through all of those spaces with great urgency, I think.

SANDERS: And it's beautiful to watch. Like, I was watching the video yesterday of you and your mother going to a store, looking at the Pattern stuff laid out, you doing a happy dance. And then I see you pick out something of your own line to buy as your mother looks on, and it's like, that is a power.

ELLIS ROSS: That is great. It's, like, mind-boggling.

SANDERS: You know, two generations of Black women owning their hair and their business - that's beautiful. That's beautiful.

ELLIS ROSS: That's so interesting. I've never quite - thank you for framing it that way. That's powerful, yeah.

SANDERS: It was yours, and you were in charge of it.

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah.

SANDERS: And to see you be not just the purchaser but also the owner of it, that's cool. That's really cool.

ELLIS ROSS: That's cool. That's really cool, yeah. I don't take that lightly.

SANDERS: Time for a break. When we come back, Tracee Ellis Ross on her singing voice. Also, listeners, if you like what you're hearing, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts. I don't know how it works, but when you do that, it helps other folks find the show, which is good for us. Help us out. I'll appreciate it. OK, we'll be right back.

Speaking of, you know, the work, this does speak to a larger point that you've made in other interviews in which the ways Black TV and movies and Black media is respected by the entertainment industry writ large. You said in an interview before that, you know, there are these waves and phases of celebrating Black narratives. It seems as if we're going to be in a moment now where every studio, every network will want to make a Black something. But the question is, how long will those things last?

ELLIS ROSS: It seems as if, but we don't know that.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: It seems as if we should've been doing this all along. Like...

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...Look at our world, guys. Look at what this looks like.

SANDERS: We've been here.

ELLIS ROSS: We've been here.

SANDERS: We've been here.

ELLIS ROSS: By the way, this is the other thing I always say in terms of hair. I'm like, we've been beautiful forever.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: Our hair's been coming out of our heads like this forever. This is not new. Black Girl Magic might be a new term, but it's an old experience. Like...

SANDERS: Exactly, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: We've been here doing this. Our stories have been interesting. It's the same thing I said and what I meant at the Golden Globes. Like, it might be - have been 35 years since a Black woman was nominated or won, but it has not been 35 years since a Black woman has been the lead in her life. That is not new information. We have been - it's lovely to see yourself in that way, but we've been here being incredible forever...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...Telling our stories, being our stories, being in our lives, running our lives, doing our lives. So that's not new.

SANDERS: You know, and, like, thinking about how, you know, this stuff is always there, it's just, do you appreciate it yet?

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah.

SANDERS: I'm thinking of what you said before about "Girlfriends," one of my favorite sitcoms. Y'all were making that show for years.

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah.

SANDERS: And you couldn't get on late-night, even though the show was incredibly popular.

ELLIS ROSS: No, sir. No, sir.

SANDERS: It's crazy.

ELLIS ROSS: Is it, though?

(LAUGHTER)

ELLIS ROSS: It feels ridiculous and wrong and...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...And strange to say in your own space sort of about yourself - you know, it's easier to say about other people. But, yeah, there's moments when you go, huh? Like, I'm not joking you. I remember the feedback. I remember it specifically. It was, we love Tracee. Call us when she gets something.

SANDERS: You'd been doing something. You'd been working for a long time.

ELLIS ROSS: But, I mean, I was the lead...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...On a show at that moment...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...A show that...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...Had been on the air. So...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...It was like, huh, what do you need to get?

SANDERS: Yeah. Do you think it's better now?

ELLIS ROSS: It's different. I don't think we're there, but we can see that we're not there by what's happening in our country. I feel very encouraged about what is happening right now. It also feels untenable and destabilizing. And - but there are real structures in place and systems in place that continue to keep things as they are, and they need to change.

SANDERS: Yup. Yeah. Speaking of things that aren't limiting, your movie.

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah.

SANDERS: It was you and - it was you in a mode that I hadn't seen before, but I was into it. You're singing.

ELLIS ROSS: Let me tell you something. I'm singing. That was an expression of true, unbridled, like, freedom and joy for me.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: To walk through a fear and towards a dream - like, that was really spectacular and fun. And I love that the movie is a feel-good movie. There's no, like, you know, bad guy.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: Like, I'm the bad guy of sorts, but I'm also not a bad guy. Like, you know what I mean?

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: Did you know - let me tell you something. I want to tell you something that I...

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. Tell me. Tell me.

ELLIS ROSS: First-time recording artist, I was on the charts. I don't know if I'm on the charts now, but I made it to...

SANDERS: Oh, snap.

ELLIS ROSS: ...No. 20 was the last - the last I heard, I was 20 on the charts.

SANDERS: What? That's huge.

ELLIS ROSS: No. 20, yeah. "Love Myself" - that's right.

SANDERS: I'm giving you snaps. You can see the snaps right there. Yes, yes, yes, yes.

ELLIS ROSS: (Singing) I forget when I was younger, it was easy - yeah.

SANDERS: And it wasn't just - like, you made six songs for this movie? You really did it.

ELLIS ROSS: I think it was five. I think it was five.

SANDERS: Five, OK.

ELLIS ROSS: I recorded seven demos but five completed, yeah.

SANDERS: Wow. Did they have to sell you on it, or were you like, I'm going to just do this?

ELLIS ROSS: No, no. I fought for that part. I hounded them. I wanted it.

SANDERS: Really?

ELLIS ROSS: Oh, I chased that [expletive].

SANDERS: OK. Tell me this story. I loved it.

ELLIS ROSS: You know, again, back to "Girlfriends." As "Girlfriends" finished, I thought the pearly gates of Hollywood were going to open and me, this lead actress from a sitcom that had been on the air for eight years, was just going to be, like, scripts at my door, ready to go. What are the choices? Where's my big film? Am I going to be in a Marvel movie? What's happening? Talk to me. Tell me where we're going.

SANDERS: (Laughter) Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: And then it was like, hello? Hello? Hello? Maybe you don't have my address. Anyway, so the career continued, and I kept doing the things that I do and being who I am. And then "Black-ish" came along. And, you know, we do 24 episodes. It's a single-camera show, so we work a good 14-hour day. Often, it's eight months out of the year. We're four months off from "Black-ish," but it's - you know, it's - you're real busy.

SANDERS: It's consuming, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: It's real - all-consuming.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: You know, this is the joke. You can see me, but the joke of this is what it's like at work. People are like, I know, but you always sit around. There's so much waiting. I was like, not on our show. This is me at work. Oh, you need me? Oh, oh, oh. Yeah, yeah, I'm coming. Oh, you need it now? Like, you never get to sit down. Like, there's no...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: It's not like you can, like, answer an email. Like, it's...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: None of that happens.

SANDERS: You're on call for 14 hours.

ELLIS ROSS: You're on call for 14 hours. And it's moving, it's moving, it's moving.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: We only get 30 minutes for lunch, which by the time you get to your trailer is 20 minutes. Like, that's it, you know?

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: So - and that's not - it's not that I'm complaining, but, I mean, it's full-time. Do you know what I mean?

SANDERS: That's the work. Yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: So by the time hiatus comes around, like what do you want to spend your time doing? Do you want to sleep? Do you want to see your friends and family that you never get to see? Do you want to run your business? Do you want to - you know what I mean? Like, what do you - like, my hair business - like, what's happening?

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: So I was waiting for the right project, and I hadn't been offered all these movies. So by the time I got to "Black-ish," it was like, well, now I want to choose a good one. I don't just want to do anything.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: You want to do a good one.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: Do you know what I mean?

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: So when this screen - script came by, I was like, this is - I want to do this.

SANDERS: OK.

ELLIS ROSS: Like, I've always wanted to sing. It's been - it was a childhood dream that kind of got put on the backburner consciously, unconsciously - I don't know. It became scarier and scarier the longer I waited. I love the fact that this was a story about no matter the age, the phase, the time of your life, it's never too late to go for your dreams. It's never too late to reinvent. It's never too late to keep becoming more of yourself. I love that message. I love that it was a story about two women and their inner lives and not necessarily them trying to find men and that the story was not about they ride off on the horse with the guy.

SANDERS: And not fighting over a man either.

ELLIS ROSS: They weren't fighting over a man. They actually were on parallel paths, both of them fighting up against what the world expects of them and who they want to be in the world. And those things were really interesting to me.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. Let's give a quick plot synopsis for those who haven't watched it. Y'all should watch it.

ELLIS ROSS: Yes.

SANDERS: What's the best way to set it up? You play a pop star.

ELLIS ROSS: I play sort of an iconic music star that's had decades of hits that's at a point in her career when the world wants her to just kind of coast. Her record company wants her to coast. But she has more that she wants to do. And then her assistant is a young girl who is in awe of her icon boss and wants to really be a music producer, but there's so few female music producers within the industry, which I did not even realize.

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: And so she's fighting against this idea that everyone thinks she should be getting them coffee when she really wants to be a producer. And so on parallel paths, the two of them are kind of finding their way.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah. What I found really interesting, and for me the most powerful scene, is when you and Dakota Johnson's character are having somewhat of a fight after that meeting with the execs. It's, like, in the bathroom.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HIGH NOTE")

ELLIS ROSS: (As Grace Davis) All right. I get it. I know what you're thinking. I'm a sellout. I get it. That was humiliating.

SANDERS: You lay out the ways in which after a certain time, the machine likes to spit women out...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HIGH NOTE")

ELLIS ROSS: (As Grace Davis) In the history of music, only five women over 40 have ever had a No. 1 hit, and only one of them was Black.

SANDERS: ...Especially Black women...

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah.

SANDERS: ...And gets over them and gets tired of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HIGH NOTE")

ELLIS ROSS: (As Grace Davis) We could pretend that we live in some sort of magical world where - I don't know - let's see; age and race are not a thing.

SANDERS: And hearing you give that line in the movie, it was so authentic. But I also thought of all the times in interviews where the first thing they say about you right now is, usually a star of Tracee Ellis Ross' age sees their career decline, but not her. I can't tell you how many articles start that way about you.

ELLIS ROSS: It's so stupid.

SANDERS: And I'm glad to note it, but are you tired of that? Are you tired of that?

ELLIS ROSS: I mean, you know what? It's the same thing when people say, like, are you tired of people asking you about, you know, are you single, or do you want to be single or whatever? And I feel like it's all - each question, each time it comes is an opportunity to expand someone's idea of what the world should be, what should be expected of women, of people, of anyone. It's so silly. Everybody has all these ideas - the status quo of - you know, that by this age, you're done. By this age, you should be married. By this age, you should have 3.2 kids and a dog and a car in the car park. I mean, like what is it, 1950? Like, enough already.

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: You know what I mean? I'm like - you should be - well, guys don't cry, and girls - and I'm like, what are you talking about? Like, it's just - it's so lazy.

SANDERS: Yes.

ELLIS ROSS: It's so lazy in my opinion.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: And, yeah, I'm 47 years old, and I'm the hottest I've ever been. I'm the most comfortable in my skin I've ever been. I feel the sexiest I've ever felt. I know more than I've ever known. I have a bigger and more compassionate heart than I've ever had. I understand the things I don't know. I'm happy to name the limits of my own knowledge. Like, I mean, come on. What do you want? Want me to go back to being 22? No, thank you. You know what I mean? Yeah, the skin was tighter under my arms, but I didn't know nothing, and everything scared the hell out of me. You know what I mean?

SANDERS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: So I would way prefer to be holding this. But, yeah, we still live in a world where ageism, sexism, racism - they are alive and well. And I'm grateful to have a platform and to be in a position where I can continue to dispel those ridiculous ideas and comfortably state, nah, I'm going to keep reinventing myself. You know what I mean?

SANDERS: Exactly.

ELLIS ROSS: I mean, look at these people around us. I mean, look at Michelle Obama. Look at my mom. Look at Jennifer Lopez. Look at...

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: ...Sanaa Lathan. Look at Gabrielle Union. Look at - I mean, the list goes on.

SANDERS: Yeah, they're highlanders (ph). They're eternal. They can keep doing this stuff forever.

ELLIS ROSS: Eternal.

SANDERS: Let them be what they want to be, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: Seriously. And why should anybody - why you get to a certain age and you get to stop dreaming? Like, what's that about?

SANDERS: Preach it. Preach it.

ELLIS ROSS: You know? And also, by the way, I've never - you know, I understood how joy was revolutionary. Like, people used to always say that. But in this context right now, what we're in right now, I understand how Black joy is revolutionary in the face of racism. I understand how continuing to dream in the face of racism, in the face of the limitation, in the face of the words like diversity and, like, all those kinds of things, that being your whole self, being your full self, fighting and protesting or pushing and being awake can still be held alongside of joy, passion, love, connection, softness - that the fullness of our humanity gets to be all of those things, and we don't get - we don't have to turn one off in order to make space for another. The same way Black people are not a monolithic...

SANDERS: Yup.

ELLIS ROSS: ...Group of people, we're not all the same, I also - you know, each of us have all these spaces to who we are. And my job - I feel like my sort of mode of operating in life is walking towards wholeness, not perfection. Perfection's so boring.

SANDERS: All right, time for one more break. When we come back, Tracee talks about portraying Black joy on screen and challenging stereotypes.

You are playing, you know, this role in the movie where it is not a stereotypical portrayal of a Black woman.

ELLIS ROSS: Thank you.

SANDERS: It is a Black woman that we usually see played by, like, the white people. But you get to be the diva and you get to be the one in charge and you get to be the one onstage. And it's like all of that should be allowed. What I see a lot, particularly in moments like these, a lot of white heads of studios, the only version of us they want to put on a screen is us in pain and us suffering. And I appreciate how you've used your career to say, no, I can be all - I can be all of these different things, and part of me being on screen and being my full self is also showing that joy.

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah, the joy and that - you know, it's one of the things that drew me to Bow Johnson on "Black-ish" is that she is thriving.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: She's not surviving.

SANDERS: Come on, yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: And I understand because the experience - there is brutality. There is violence. There is oppression.

SANDERS: Yes.

ELLIS ROSS: There is suppression. There is all...

SANDERS: Yes.

ELLIS ROSS: There is incarceration. But I don't think any of us need to allow that to become the whole experience. That's what we're fighting against.

SANDERS: Or our whole narrative.

ELLIS ROSS: Or our whole narrative. The more we get to name and see our experience, our legacy, our history, the reality of our lives - because it is not in textbooks; it's not taught in school - the more we get to own that, see that, for others but also for ourselves, we get to heal because we've had to decontextualize who we are constantly in everything we do, just constantly taking it out of context, as if we are these lone little islands walking around and as if we're crazy for feeling the way we're feeling and constantly gaslit as - it's, like, no. No, this is real.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: This is real. And there is a reason that these feelings erupt. You know, I don't know. I mean, God, I'm just - I can't stop talking. Sorry (laughter).

SANDERS: No, I love it. This is gold. Keep on. Keeping preaching. Keep preaching. I'm into it. I'm into it.

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah, it's really interesting now.

SANDERS: But yeah. It's like, we should be able to get to be everything. And I think that we have to continue to challenge this notion that white viewing audiences might be scared to watch it. No, they're not. They're actually pretty curious.

ELLIS ROSS: They're really curious. And also, you know, our freedom keeps being dismantled and limited because of white comfort.

SANDERS: Exactly. Exactly. And, like, I spent a life growing up watching so much TV and totally inhabiting the stories and lives of characters from shows like "Cheers" and "Frasier."

ELLIS ROSS: That look nothing like you. That look nothing like you.

SANDERS: And if I can do that and attach to them...

ELLIS ROSS: So can you.

SANDERS: White people are the same species as me.

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah.

SANDERS: They can do the same in reverse.

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah. And I always say that about "Black-ish." It's the story of an American family.

SANDERS: Yeah. I want to dip back into music for a bit for the movie.

ELLIS ROSS: Dip it. Dip it (laughter).

SANDERS: Yes. Yes. When did you tell your mom you were doing this, and did you involve her in that process at all? I imagine that adds another level of anxiety.

ELLIS ROSS: Well, that was the main level of anxiety because I thought...

SANDERS: OK (laughter).

ELLIS ROSS: ...People were going to compare me to her.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: And there's no way I could ever be her, you know?

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: But I realized somewhere on the way through that it wasn't my job to be her or anybody but myself...

SANDERS: There you go.

ELLIS ROSS: ...And that that's actually what soul is. My job was to actually share my soul. In terms of my mom and telling her, I remember telling her that I got this movie I had really wanted, but I didn't tell her I was singing in the movie - not on purpose; I just didn't. I talked to my mom a hundred times a day, but I - somehow we don't always talk about business and work stuff. I don't know what we're - I say this all the time. I don't know what we talk about all the time.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ELLIS ROSS: We talk about food. What'd you make for dinner? Can I drop off something?

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: I mean, like, I don't know. We just talk about other things. So I didn't tell her that. Finally, after we had recorded enough of the demo tracks and I felt like I was kind of gaining my footing a little bit, I was like, Mom, I'm ready for you to hear. She's like, what? And I was like, the song. She was like, OK. So by then, she knew.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: And I picked her up in my car. Listening to music in the car is always great because you're in sort of, you know, an enclosed space with speakers. So I picked her up. We sat in my car in her driveway.

(LAUGHTER)

ELLIS ROSS: And she sat in the passenger seat. And we were holding hands on the - you know, the little thing in between the armrests.

SANDERS: Aw, that's sweet.

ELLIS ROSS: And then she finally - you know, she's got a lot of hair.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ELLIS ROSS: So I couldn't see her face when she was looking forward. And then she kind of finally turned to me, and her face was covered in tears. And she just looked at me and said, finally (laughter). Yeah, we were crying. It was crazy.

SANDERS: Moms. Moms.

ELLIS ROSS: Moms.

SANDERS: Oh, my goodness.

ELLIS ROSS: My mom is one of those parents that really - she just allows us our process. She never pushes and doesn't sort of put her - my mom has lived out her life pretty fully.

SANDERS: Yeah (laughter).

ELLIS ROSS: So she doesn't have to live much out through us.

SANDERS: Yeah.

ELLIS ROSS: So she just really kind of - she's, like, right here kind of like, what can I do? How can I help? What can I do?

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. I love it.

ELLIS ROSS: And then she - yeah.

SANDERS: One of the things the film made me think about was, like, it is totally unfair for there not to be already a T-Murda album.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: I'm talking about...

ELLIS ROSS: I think it's really fair that there isn't because I do not come by rap skills and lyricism honestly, OK?

(LAUGHTER)

ELLIS ROSS: This is a stretch and a reach for Tracee Ellis Ross.

SANDERS: I like it, though. We should say, so T-Murda is your rap alter ego...

ELLIS ROSS: Yes.

SANDERS: ...Who every now and then pops up in the social media. But as I was watching "The High Note," I kept saying to myself, maybe T-Murda'll pop up. What rap song would T-Murda make right now?

ELLIS ROSS: Oh, my God. That's the thing. T-Murda only does other people's songs.

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ELLIS ROSS: Like, T-Murda's never done her own song. Like, I would need to - T-Murda would be - she would be all up over the shade room with people saying that I had ghost writers.

(LAUGHTER)

ELLIS ROSS: T-Murda has got, like - God, I don't know. You know what? Like, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B and Lil Kim and Foxy Brown - they're all my ghostwriters. Their T-Murda's ghostwriters.

SANDERS: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

SANDERS: That sounds like a great album.

ELLIS ROSS: You know what?

SANDERS: That needs to be in my 2021.

ELLIS ROSS: Yeah, if that's an album, then they should - they don't need T-Murda. You know what I mean?

SANDERS: (Laughter).

ELLIS ROSS: They don't need me; I need them (laughter).

SANDERS: Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Well, I just had to ask 'cause I like T-Murda.

ELLIS ROSS: I think that's amazing. That's great.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah. On that note, this was an honor and a pleasure.

ELLIS ROSS: Thank you. I appreciate it.

SANDERS: I really appreciate it.

ELLIS ROSS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SANDERS: Tracee Ellis Ross, thank you so much. I really enjoyed that. I appreciate you, and I cannot wait for that T-Murda album. Listeners, Tracee's film "The High Note" is out right now. You can catch it at home on demand and watch Tracee Ellis Ross sing.

All right, this episode was produced by Anjuli Sastry, and it was edited by Jordana Hochman. We're back in your feeds Friday. Till then, listeners, be good to yourselves. We'll talk soon.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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