Tracee Ellis Ross expands 'Black-ish' universe with 'Mixed-ish'

By Fred Topel
Traces Ellis Ross executive produces and narrates the "Black-ish" spinoff "Mixed-ish."  File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
1 of 3 | Traces Ellis Ross executive produces and narrates the "Black-ish" spinoff "Mixed-ish."  File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Sept. 24 (UPI) -- The hit ABC comedy Black-ish already spawned one spinoff, the college comedy Grown-ish. Now Mixed-ish, a prequel about Rainbow Johnson's (Tracee Ellis Ross) childhood in the '80s, premieres Tuesday.

Rainbow, or simply Bow, grew up in a mixed family. Her parents (Mark-Paul Gosselaar and Tika Sumpter) moved from a commune to suburbia. Ross executive produces Mixed-ish with Black-ish writer Peter Saji as another executive producer and Karin Gist as showrunner.


"It lends itself very easily to my personality and what I've already been doing in my life," Ross said during a Television Critics Association panel in August. "I'm interested in telling really good stories, and I also think that this was a really seamless story to tell. I feel like we've been waiting to hear this story. We haven't had a chance to do a lot of it on Black-ish, and it was a great idea."


Ross believes the experiences of children of mixed parents have not been represented on television.

"It hasn't been explored," Ross said. "It certainly hasn't been explored in a sitcom. I remember when I first got Black-ish, I was so excited because it was truly my first time playing a mixed woman on television.

"But even on Black-ish, we haven't completely explored it. There have been a lot of dialogue and a lot of episodes and conversations around the fact that Bow is [mixed], limited to jokes being thrown at her. I think this is an opportunity for us to unpack that in a much larger way."

Young Bow (Arica Himmel) has a brother, Johan (Ethan William Childress), and a sister, Santamonica (Mykal-Michelle Harris), each of whom have unique childhoods.

"They aren't necessarily each other's allies," Ross said. "Santamonica and Johan actually explore a different version of being mixed. So she is a little bit her own island in terms of how she's making her way through and navigating, which offers a lot of different stories.

"You get to see the mixed experience is not a universal, not a monolithic experience. Everybody sort of navigates it differently and finds their way differently. So we've got three points of view of how to navigate that where the parents actually don't have the same experience, but the three of them do, and each is navigating it differently."


The daughter of Diana Ross and Robert Ellis Silberstein, Ross had her own experience growing up mixed that she said she would like to explore on Mixed-ish.

"I just had to make sense of it because the way I was raised didn't beg for me to have to answer that question because it wasn't an issue within my family," Ross said.

Ross says as she grew up and became more aware of the world, and compared experiences with her siblings, she started to wonder what being mixed meant.

"You start asking yourself those questions and trying to understand where you land on things," Ross said. "Honestly, I'm still evolving and learning in that area, not necessarily out of my identity as a mixed woman, but just out of my identity as a human being. I will tell you it's fodder for a lot of very funny stories, a lot of very interesting stories."

That said, Mixed-ish is not autobiographical.

"I did not grow up on a commune," Ross said. "I have way more siblings than Bow Johnson has. I am not a doctor. My mom is not a lawyer. So really this is not autobiographical, except for the element of the mixed experience, which I'm so grateful to be able to share with the world through Bow Johnson."


Thematically, Ross can translate the lessons she learned navigating different cultures into Mixed-ish.

"I remember early on thinking that I learned not to judge a book by its cover in a very real way," Ross said. "It was how I was the same and how I was different, and that the ways that I was different were actually the most beautiful aces in my deck."

The first episode of Mixed-ish begins with Bow's current family on Black-ish. As she tells the story of her childhood, the show flashes back to that childhood in the '80s while Ross' voice continues to narrate.

"Saji was on Black-ish, so Bow's voice is very clear," Ross said. "She has a really specific way of looking at the world and being in the world. Her sense of humor is very clear, so that will filter its way through because the truth is that I'm not a narrator on this show.

"This show is an expression of my memory, so I'm this omniscient person and we're flashing back into my life as opposed to just telling a story and I'm telling you what happens. They're like the flashbacks on Black-ish, but done in a full episode."


Mixed-ish is a 1980s period piece with all the pop culture touchstones that entails.

"I was listening to a lot of Madonna, wearing a lot of rubber bracelets, wearing Norma Kamali," Ross said. "I alternated between Norma Kamali and Ralph Lauren. I dressed like a preppy or like a Madonna girl. Bermuda shorts. These were my years, the '80s, so I was busy exploring different identities and finding myself, too, at the time."

Over the summer, Ross did double-duty filming Black-ish while developing and recording Mixed-ish. She continues to expand creatively, writing Jodie, a spinoff of the animated Daria series that was spun off from Beavis and Butt-Head.

"I'm a gal who is very happy to have my hands in a lot of things," Ross said. "I have that capability, and I am excited to be utilized in that way. A full plate for a very smart lady."

Mixed-ish airs at 9 p.m. ET Tuesday on ABC, right before the season premiere of Black-ish.

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