Actress. Producer. CEO. Creative. Tracee Ellis Ross has forged a unique path in Hollywood.
After appearing in 1996’s Far Harbor, she landed her first studio film role in Hanging Up (2000). That year would prove to be her breakthrough—not only did she became a regular on the MTV series The Lyricist Lounge Show, a hip-hop variety show mixing music and sketch comedy, but she also landed her first major network role as Joan Clayton on the long-running sitcom Girlfriends—which garnered her a whopping eight NAACP Image Award nominations for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series, including two wins. Additionally, she received a nomination in the Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series category for Girlfriends in 2009. Over the years, she’s also guest-starred in CSI and Portlandia; co-starred in HBO’s LIFE Support with Queen Latifah; and appeared in feature films Daddy’s Little Girls (2007) and The High Note (2020).
But it was her performance as Dr. Rainbow “Bow” Johnson in ABC’s black-ish, beginning in 2014, that cemented her in the pop-culture lexicon. Unafraid to tackle serious topics with bold humor, the series examined current events through the lens of the Johnson family— led by anesthesiologist Bow and advertising-exec husband Andre “Dre” (fellow 2022 Disney Legend inductee Anthony Anderson). “This show is sort of pulling apart the myth of the ‘Black experience,’” she once said. “It’s not monolithic. Differences in experience, points of view, and opinions aren’t what pulls us apart. It’s what brings us together.” During the show’s incredible eight-year run, Tracee was nominated five times for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series at the Primetime Emmy® Awards; twice for the Critics Choice Awards; and won the Golden Globe® Award for Best Actress in a TV Comedy in 2017, marking the first time a Black woman took home the trophy since Debbie Allen in 1983. The role also earned her yet another eight NAACP Image Award nominations, with four wins. Earlier this year, black-ish ended its monumental run to both critical and audience acclaim.
“Working for Disney opened so many doors for me,” she explains, “and it also afforded me another long TV sitcom run. Because of my role on black-ish, I’ve now enjoyed playing a character for eight years on network television for a second time—which is extremely rare.”
Tracee stayed with both ABC and the Johnsons for a concurrent project—creating, executive producing, and narrating mixed-ish (2019–2021), a prequel to black-ish that explored Bow’s experience growing up in a mixed-race family in the 1980s. Within the worlds of Disney, she’s also made several appearances on the black-ish sequel, Freeform’s grown-ish, and has popped up on ABC’s Private Practice and FX Productions’ The Premise.
Connecting with people outside of screens large and small is equally as important to Tracee, who’s worked with many notable organizations over the years, including The Big Brother Big Sister Program; additionally, she launched her own website, traceeellisross.com, in 2012, and frequently connects with her more than 10 million social media followers to join her quest for inclusivity and equity. She’s also proud to be the CEO and founder of Pattern—a haircare brand she created for “the curly, coily, and tight-textured masses” which supports organizations and programs that empower women and people of color. In February 2021, Ross signed on with ULTA Beauty as its Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Advisor, formalizing an already existing dialogue and partnership with ULTA Beauty’s then-CEO Mary Dillon in an effort to ensure foundational change for customers and employees alike.
Accolades include the Fierce and Fearless award from the 2016 ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood luncheon; the “Volunteer of the Year” from The Los Angeles Urban League; the Lucy Award for Excellence in Television from Women in Film; and an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from her alma mater, Brown University.
Now, she adds Disney Legend to that illustrious list. “What an impressive group to be a part of,” admits Tracee. “Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah Winfrey, all four ‘Golden Girls’, Robin Williams, James Earl Jones, Bette Midler… It’s incredible that my name and work will join the ranks of such icons, and I’m thrilled to receive this honor alongside my TV husband.”