Tracee Ellis Ross' Must List pays tribute to her mom, Whoopi Goldberg, and Michaela Coel

Sarah Rodman
·4 min read

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In 2020 actress-singer-producer Tracee Ellis Ross notched some major milestones, including a fourth Emmy nod for her deft work as Rainbow Johnson on Black-ish, displaying her vocal chops in the film The High Note, hosting a night of the DNC, signing an overall deal with ABC…and Girlfriends finally came to Netflix! (If all that wasn't enough, she also received the Fashion Icon Award at Sunday's People's Choice Awards.) In her My Must List, Ross, 48, shares her favorites that offer entertainment and enlightenment.

BOOKS: Sister Outsider, by Audre Lorde (1984)

“It reached into my past and gave it context,” she says. “It was and is pivotal in helping me frame how ‘Black’ and ‘woman’ intersect. She was the first to introduce me to the revolutionary nature of Black joy and the blindspots of privilege. I still go back to this book as reference on a regular basis. It always gets packed in my bag for travel. Audre has given me a road map for my feminist beliefs.” Ross also shouted out Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart. "That book was revolutionary for me."


MOVIES: Mahogany (1975)

Ross loves many of her mother Diana Ross' films — including a soft spot for The Wiz — but this mid-'70s classic is one of her favorites for several reasons: “From a standpoint of fashion and the fact that her name was Tracy Chambers and I was in her belly.” She also confesses that she's a huge fan of Grease. "It is a movie I've seen multiple times," says Ross of the original high school musical. I really identified with the style. It was just dynamic and spectacular and ridiculous. I loved the drama of the songs."


TV: I May Destroy You (HBO)

“The way she uses story has changed what we expect from storytelling,” Ross says of Michaela Coel’s instant classic. “Not only is she an incredible actress, her face is extraordinary. It gives you the depth of the ocean and the flightiness of a cloud. What she inhabits in her face and body is otherworldly and deeply grounded in the present. It really blew my mind."

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STAGE: Whoopi Goldberg (1984)

The one-woman Broadway show introduced the future EGOT to the world and inspired Ross. “My mother brought me and my sister to see her," she recalls of the performance in which Goldberg played a number of characters. "It literally identified what I wanted to do with my life. I always thought that I was going to do a one-woman show, and I have continued to write one, and then I get a job and get distracted. I grew up on Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett. Those two women had defined me in terms of a combination of glamor and humor and silliness and self-deprecation. But they obviously didn't look like me. So when I saw Whoopi onstage I was able to translate Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball and put Whoopi in there, and I started to see myself larger than just an identification, but what I could actually do with my life.”

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MUSIC: Tracy Chapman (1988)

“That album is art,” Ross say sof the singer-songwriter’s” revelatory” debut, which featured “Fast Car.” “I feel like she kind of sits down next to you where you are in your life and it is so timeless. Her voice is a combination of a warm bath and a mountaintop. Her lyrics…every single song resonated, and every single song does still. It was like a personal acoustic concert. And it was an album you could listen to from front to back. There is an element of Billie Holiday in her, in that, in all of the pain she expresses, there is still a sense of joy and light."

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As longtime fans of her Instagram may recall, Ross treasures a dip and “doing all the old-school things and playing in the water like I’m 10.” But, she says with a laugh, “I love a pool, but I hate being wet. So it has to be a pool combined with sunshine and heat.”

A version of this story appears in the November issue of Entertainment Weekly, available here. Don't forget to subscribe for more exclusive interviews and photos, only in EW.

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