Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Why Tracee Ellis Ross Still Deserves More As An Actress

In an alternate universe, Tracee Ellis Ross would be the biggest star in the world right now.

Her Voice

In an alternate universe – much fairer than the one we currently occupy – where Hollywood is a place that allows talent to actually flourish, Tracee Ellis Ross would be the biggest star in the world right now.

My mind struggles to think of anyone else that is as effortlessly funny, endlessly vibrant, and impossibly beautiful right now in Hollywood other than Ross. Of course, being the daughter of legendary Diana Ross certainly lends itself to her charisma. But it's the way she bursts out into a song. Her cackle that fills an entire room. Her smile that only rivals the sun with how bright it is.

If this was the '60s, Ross would give Hollywood comedic darling Carol Burnett a run for her money with the sheer breadth of her talent as an actress. I’m imagining Ross as the host of her own variety show where she’s singing, performing in sketches, and wearing an endless array of gowns.

I was too young during the initial run of Girlfriends. The Ross I fell in love with was not Ross as Joan Clayton – the high-strung yet sophisticated attorney – but instead, it was Ross the YouTuber. This was years after Girlfriends had been canceled and during the time when her acting career had briefly stalled, but proving she’s always ahead of the curve, Ross started making her own videos sharing hair care tips, beauty secrets, and moments with her rapping alter ego, T Murda.

Tracee was an influencer before being an influencer was a thing.

In 2014, the hit ABC comedy black-ish introduced Ross to a wider (whiter) audience as she played Rainbow “Bow” Johnson, the doctor and the matriarch of the Johnson family. It was this performance that would garner her the most awards praise and it was this performance that would bring her the most recognition from critics, talk show hosts, and magazines. Was it her best role? Debatable. Still, only Ross could elevate the overdone role of a woman whose primary function on a show is to support her husband and children into something bearable and even amusing.

Now, with the ending of the series, I’m giddy at the prospect of what Ross’ career will look like moving forward. In a recent interview with The Cut where she’s in conversation with the one and only Megan Thee Stallion, Ross speaks about owning her narrative saying, “By not letting other people’s ideas of me change my idea of myself. It means holding my own counsel and navigating my life on my compass, which is about my relationship with higher power, my relationship with those I trust and love. And then in terms of my career, it’s about saying what I want it to be.”

Already, the actress has the titular role in Jodie, the spin-off of the hit ‘90s cartoon Daria, lined up. I want to say the entertainment world is now Ross’ oyster, but knowing what Hollywood is has left me cynical. In my wildest dreams, I envision a career for Ross where she gets to be as effervescent on screen as she is off. Where she gets to play the love interest in a romantic comedy where her character is a fully realized person without a partner and romantic love just becomes a cherry on top.

I want her to play the eccentric but loveable character à la Maude from Harold and Maude. She could perform a one-woman show off-Broadway! She could play a good witch! She could play a wicked witch!

Tracee can and should be allowed to have it all. Give Tracee Ellis Ross the world, you cowards!

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Featured image by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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