Tracee Ellis Ross and Creator Kenya Barris Talk ‘Black-ish’

On closing night of the American Black Film Festival actor Tracee Ellis Ross and Kenya Barris, writer and creator of Black-ish engaged in candid panel discussion about the first season and what’s next for this groundbreaking show.


Moderating the discussion was executive producer as well as writer and political commentator Larry Wilmore.  Kenya talked about pitching Black-ish to networks and Tracee talked about the audition process. Check out highlights below:


Larry: How hard was it to pitch your story to networks?  Did you pitch your story for a number of years, how did that work out?


Kenya: It was weird.  This show was has probably been sold four times. I had different versions of it.  This time I didn’t pull back.  A lot of times we’re sorta taught to try to make it palatable for everyone.


Larry: “Un-blacken” it a little bit?


Kenya: Yes. It was about telling a story that was specific to my life and to a lot of people’s lives that I knew. The biggest thing we got comparison of when we were doing the show was The Cosby Show.  The Cosby Show was a show about a family that happened to be black. I decided to create a show about a family that was absolutely black.


Larry: Right because when that show came on there were many racial stories about black that were being told. Although Good Times had some of it but that was more about class struggle but certainly The Jefferson’s did a lot about race.


Kenya: The story behind this was that after the pilot was written, the network really liked it and they asked would you like someone to shepherd you in and show you the ropes.  They were like what about Larry Wilmore and I was like ‘yeah’.  Larry’s very picky and he does not take a lot of projects and he seemed to respond to it.  I’ve been a huge fan and Larry was like you had me the first ten pages.


Larry:  Kenya’s script popped up on the page.  If you’re every written a pilot especially in Hollywood, you want that script to pop in the first 3 pages.


Tracee:  I will also say this, Kenya’s material has always popped off the page.  I’ve read lots of your scripts.  Kenya’s is an amazing writer. One of the things you do incredibly well is dialog of that sounds like actual human’s speaking and there’s a specific sense of humor that’s really key.  He always pops off the page but this was particularly poppy.


Larry:  How do you go from seeing yourself as an actor playing a part to bringing yourself into that part?


Tracee:  I think that’s the hardest part of the journey, I really do and once you cross the line and get to the other side there’s a whole bunch of fun and freedom but in the beginning it’s terrifying.  When you cross the line is when you stop caring.  There’s all these things that come up during auditioning. For me the link in, is I finally gave myself the permission to be as bad as I needed to be and to go in and my only feasible goal was to take on conscious breath. To be present.

-Yanique Bourjolly