BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – Tracee Ellis Ross has explored Rainbow Johnson on "Black-ish" for five seasons, but there's still a big aspect of the character yet to dig into: her biracial heritage.
In "Black-ish," Bow has a white father, played by Beau Bridges, and a black mother, played by Anna Deavere Smith, and the sitcom's latest spinoff, "Mixed-ish," portrays how a young Bow (Arica Himmel) and her siblings (played by Daveed Diggs and Rashida Jones on "Black-ish") grew up as mixed-race kids in the 1980s. It arrives this fall on ABC.
"In all honesty (the mixed-race experience) hasn’t been explored, it certainly hasn’t been explored in a sitcom," Ross, an executive producer on the new series, told the Television Critics Association Monday. "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. ... And I think this is an opportunity to unpack that in a much larger way that I’m thrilled to do."
The series follows Bow at age 12, her brother Johan (Ethan William Childress) and her sister Santamonica (Mykal-Michelle Harris) as they and their parents Alicia (Tika Sumpter) and Paul (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) leave life on a secluded commune and move to the suburbs, where the kids are bombarded by realizations about their heritage. Ross, the daughter of Diana Ross and Robert Ellis Silberstein, had a different upbringing, but says the experience is universal for mixed-raced children.
"A mixed kid in America is a mixed kid in America," she says. "And there’s a lot of very archetypal experiences that we have that are the contradictions of these two heritages. And truthfully for me, my experiences within my family, similar to this family, was a protected safe environment, that my mixedness didn’t necessarily come up in a big way. But how you push up against the world is sort of where that gets ignited. But really (the show) is about finding one’s own identity and learning to own that on your own."
The series found young actors who bear a remarkable resemblance to their adult "Black-ish" counterparts, and even Ross is stunned by how much Himmel looks like her.
"It’s kind of unbelievable," Ross says. "It’s pretty ridiculous. I wish I was this pretty when I was young but, I mean, we really do look alike! We really do! Look at the eyes on this one. I feel like we’re the same person!"
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tracee Ellis Ross: Mixed-race experience hasn't been explored on TV