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Tracee Ellis Ross Talks “Reed” and The Real Her

Tracee Ellis Ross for VIBE VixenFor years, we witnessed Tracee Ellis Ross become the neurotic, and hilarious, Joan Clayton who was always searching for her passion—and her man—in the entertaining sitcom Girlfriends. Now, the actress-turned-producer is back on the small screen as Joan Clayton's dream woman: Wife and mother.

Ross’ new show, Reed Between the Lines, is billed as a 21st century Cosby Show, but is it? As many question whether or not it can live up to the hype, Ross is confident and proud in her show’s ability to fill a void and depict a positive black family living and loving on their own terms.

Recently, Vibe Vixen sat down with Ross to discuss the audience’s reaction to Reed Between the Lines, her personal style, and the advice she'd give her girlfriends who, like Joan, are still single and seeking.

VIBE Vixen: I spoke with you before Reed Between the Lines premiered and you were excited about people seeing it. Now that people have seen it, what do you think about the audience’s reaction?
Tracee Ellis Ross: I don’t know all of the viewers’ reactions. The only access I have is through Twitter, but I feel really proud of what we’ve done. I think it always takes some time to find a new show. For example, The Game existed before it went to BET, so it had a built-in audience. And part of why BET created this show was because it was something that its audience seemed to want and had been asking for—a family show. But it’s still very different from what’s been on BET, and it takes people a minute either to find it or for their palate to get used to it because it’s not typically found on BET.

The people that I have been in contact with, that I’ve run into on the street and on Twitter, seem to really enjoy it. They seem to be grateful that we have something on television that they can be proud of, and it feels like a show that represents a part of our audience that wasn’t being represented. And people really seem to like my clothes [Laughs].

VV: Well, we’ll get to that later.
Ross: But for me, I remember when Girlfriends started and how it took some time for us to find each other’s characters and to gel with the writers. It takes time.

VV: Do you think The Cosby Show comparisons set the audience expectations too high?
Ross: I don’t know. For some people, it’s a great context to know what the show might be and, for [others], it makes it hard because you’re comparing it to something that you have such a clear idea of. BET seems to be promoting it as the new Cosby which I don’t think it helpful, and I don’t think makes sense.

The way Malcolm [Jamal Warner] and I have been describing it is that we are in no way, shape or form, trying to be a new Cosby Show. What we are doing is taking the recipe of what Cosby did--a family show that was timeless and good--and use those elements.

I can’t get invested in whether it hurts the show or not. On other networks, they do two episodes and they pull a show from television. Sometimes that’s the greatest thing and sometimes it just never had a chance to grow. With BET, we did 25 episodes and we’re getting a chance. It’s really wonderful working with a network that wants your show and is behind your show. The audience asked for this kind of show, BET listened and they went out and have gotten behind our show. On other networks, I don’t know if that always happens.

Tracee Eliis Ross for VIBE Vixen VV: Is it difficult balancing your role as producer with starring in the show?
Ross: I wouldn’t say difficult, but it definitely makes for a long day. But it is the kind of full plate that I adore. I adore this kind of work, and it’s very rewarding. The producer role very much plays into the kind of person I am. In the evolution of my career, it is a really exciting step for me because I am the kind of creative person that has a real opinion about the kind of images that I want to portray and want in the public. Having a seat at the table with the many voices, that is part of the collaborative art of television and is really exciting and wonderful for me.

VV: One of the recent episodes dealt with a veteran with PTSD, and it was a little more serious. Will we be seeing more of that in upcoming episodes?
Ross: In terms of where we want to go as a show, I know that we all long for a nice balance with the comedy and the humor. Finding the grounded humor and not the joke humor is always the challenge.

VV: So you have this season and next season?
Ross: We have no idea; we’ll see if we get picked up. That’s always the gamble.

VV: Let’s talk about your style. Before when we spoke, you mentioned that some of the pieces from Girlfriends would find their way into Carla’s wardrobe. What’s the inspiration? Do you work with designers or find things out and about?
Ross: It’s stuff that’s been found out and about. The way I went about Joan and Carla is I always ask myself who this woman is. Every once in a while people say Carla is so much like Joan, and I’m like, People, Tracee plays both people. So what you’re seeing that’s the same between Carla and Joan is not Carla being like Joan, but it’s Tracee. Tracee was Joan and Tracee is Carla. It’s so funny people don’t understand that, it makes me laugh.

VV: I think it’s because we got so used to you as Joan.
Ross: You know Joan more than you know Tracee. That’s a good thing; it means I’m a great actor [Laughs]. But they are very different women. Joan was very neurotic and afraid. She did not have a lot of faith, and she was trying to have a lot more control over her life. It was a lot harder, there were a lot more suits, it was a little less flowy. Carla has a lot more faith, she has a lot more acceptance of herself and she has the support of a husband that accepts her as she is—which was Joan’s exact struggle. So Carla’s clothes are a lot softer, there are a lot less suits, there is a lot more movement and whimsy in her clothing.

Tracee Ellis Ross for VIBE Vixen VV: What are some of the difference in the way Tracee dresses versus Carla and Joan?
Ross: I am different than both of those ladies. I dress sexier than Carla, meaning I wear more form-fitting clothes. I have a little more edge to the way I dress than both of the ladies, and I dress down way more than both of those ladies. My regular attire is sweat pants or skinny jeans, and I’m the queen of the blazer. I will dress a look up by putting on a blazer. I’ll throw on a really great looking jacket with some sneakers and a pair of jeans. I love a bag. I have a collection of bags that I love.

In my real life, I’m always wearing lipstick. I wear lipstick when I work out. I don’t wear foundation, I really don’t wear any makeup, but I love lipstick.

VV: Do you have any favorites?
Ross: Right now I’m really hooked on Damned from NARS, and I’m always a Ruby W00 fan. There’s a Ruby Woo in my car, my purse and my home. Right now I have a collection of vintage t-shirts that’s making me so happy. A girlfriend of mind found these two great Diana Ross t-shirts, and it started a thing. Now I hunt for them!

VV: I know you don’t talk about your love life, but…
Ross: I know! You tried that the last time [Laughs].

VV: But Joan Clayton was a serial monogamist...
Ross: Not on purpose, she was really just a serial dater who was trying very hard to turn that into marriage.

VV: A lot of our readers are young women who are single, and there’s been a lot of discussion about Black women being single and doomed. What kind of advice would you give them?
Ross: Well, I never give advice. All I would say is there’s no method to this madness of life. No one has all the answers; no one is you. I don’t have all of the answers, but listen to yourself. Know yourself. Discover what works for you. You never know when things happen and how they happen, but an openness and willingness to be curious about your life and what it is that you really want and what package it’s going to come in is the journey.

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Vivica A. Fox Explains Past Hesitance Behind 'Two Can Play That Game' Script

In a new interview with Essence, actress Vivica A. Fox discussed how she initially turned down her role in Two Can Play That Game based on the script. The established entertainer said it's her mission to ensure that black people are positively portrayed onscreen, and noticed the aforementioned film's prose didn't live up to those standards.

"I think the reason why—no I know the reason why—I've been doing this for such a long time is that I fight," Fox said. "When we did Two Can Play That Game, I fought for the way we talked, walked, the way we loved each other." The Set It Off actress continued to state that she consistently declined Two Can Play That Game before signing on to play the lead role. "Because the script, when I first got it, I turned it down three times because it just wasn't a good representation of African-Americans, so I fought them on everything," she noted. "I want to make sure that the images of African-Americans are as positive and as true as they can possibly be."

In 2001, the romantic comedy debuted to fanfare, boasting an all-star cast of Morris Chestnut, Mo'Nique, Anthony Anderson, Bobby Brown, Gabrielle Union, Wendy Raquel Robinson, and more. Directed by Mark Brown (Barbershop, Iverson, How To Be A Player), Fox plays a career driven person named Shante Smith who navigates a curveball when her boyfriend Keith Fenton (Chestnut) cheats on her with a co-worker.

After its release, Two Can Play That Game raked in over $22 million at the box office.

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Actress Gabrielle Union attends the Being Mary Jane premiere, screening, and party on January 9, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET)
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BET To Unveil Edible Billboard For 'Being Mary Jane' Wedding Finale

As Being Mary Jane comes to an end, BET is willing to offer fans a taste of what's to come in the series finale.

The network has enlisted the help of Ayesha Curry, celebrity cook and cookbook author, to create an edible billboard that also doubles as a wedding cake. The sweet treat will commemorate Mary Jane's (played by Gabrielle Union) nuptials in the two-hour series finale.

On April 20 from 1:00 P.M. to 7:00 P.M. at Brooklyn's Atlantic Terminal in New York, fans will be presented with the edible billboard. At the intersection of Ashland Place and Hanson Place, the closer Being Mary Jane enthusiasts get to the billboard the quicker they'll notice that the four-tiered wedding cake is created from individual boxes, each containing a slice of Curry's prized wedding cake.

All fans have to do is pull a box from the billboard, snap a picture for the 'Gram, take a bite and enjoy. Although lovers of the show won't be able to celebrate with Mary Jane herself, biting into a slice of her wedding cake, for free, is the next best thing.

Don't forget to tune into the series finale of Being Mary Jane on Tues. (April 23) at 8/7 c.

Also, check out what's to come on the series of Being Mary Jane below.

Save the date! 👰🏾It'll be worth the wait. Join us for the series finale of #BeingMaryJane TUES APR 23 8/7c only on @BET!

— #BeingMaryJane (@beingmaryjane) March 29, 2019

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The North Face

Ella Mai On The North Face's 'Explore Mode' Campaign, New Music And Living In The Moment

Ella Mai is in her own age of exploration. Her eponymous debut album scored her a platinum plaque with her breakout hit, "Boo'd Up" earning her a Grammy for Best R&B Song. But the accolades aren't driving her creative path. The arc in her compass is all about the places she's traveled, the people she's met and the lessons learned along the way.

"To be honest, personally, exploration is like growth. I feel like if you don't explore new things, whether it's going outside, meeting people or trying new food, you won't ever grow because you're just stuck in your little comfort zone which can be super scary to come out of," she tells VIBE at The North Face's Explore Mode event in New York on Monday (April 15). The singer is one of three women (including model-activist Gabrielle Richardson and chef Angela Dimayuga) who teamed up with the brand to share a message of enjoying the outside world without digital confinement and the global initiative to make Earth Day a national holiday.

The London native's urge to explore came in handy over the weekend when she performed in the brisk desert of Coachella. Inspired by artists like Rihanna and Ms. Lauryn Hill, Mai helped fans enjoy the hazy sunset as she performed hits like "Trip" and her latest No. 1 song, "Shot Clock."

"It's such a good feeling, especially when it comes to radio," she shared about her track reaching No. 1 on the airplay chart. "I wasn't even sure if people listened to the radio because people have so much access to streaming platforms, but obviously having all three of my singles from my debut album, go number one on urban radio is incredible."

That energy was brought to the Coachella stage with the festival being her biggest artistic exploration so far.

"My favorite part of the performance would have to be when I performed "Naked" and because it was dark, and I performed when the sun went down, I couldn't see how far the crowd actually went back. But during "Naked," it was such an intimate moment I asked everyone to put their lights up (phones) and when I saw how far it went back I was like, "Woah." That moment sealed it for me."

"Even there were two people in the audience, I still would've done my best," she added. "But just to see the crowd be so engaged, even if they didn't know the music, was a really good feeling. I had so much fun."

As the festival energy in Indio, Calif. continued to thrive, another rested on the streets of Los Angeles following the loss of Nipsey Hussle. With the singer having ties to those close to the rapper like DJ Mustard, she says the shift in the city was hard to ignore.

"As weird as it sounds, you felt it," she said. "Even in the weather, it was super hot and then everyone got the news and it started raining. Just a weird energy shift." As a new L.A. resident, the singer says Nipsey's influence cannot be denied.

"I feel like the energy shift went both ways; everyone was really sad, grieving and mourning but everyone feels more inspired by what he was doing that they want to go out and do something and change in their community. It's still a very touchy subject in L.A., especially the people that I'm around since they were very close to him. I think everyone is super inspired to do better and try to be more like him, which is great to see. YG's whole set at Coachella was dedicated to him, I know Khalid had a dedication to Mac Miller. Everyone is super aware of what Nipsey was trying to do and how he wanted to change the world."

Engaging in The North Face's mission to explore seemed to be in the cards for Mai. Like many of us, Mai was familiar with the brand's effective coolness factor. "I remember running home and telling my mom that I needed a Jester Backpack because my cousin had one as well, and it's similar to the other stories, I wanted to be like my older cousin (laughs) so my mom ended up getting me one." But there's also the incentive to showcase the importance of stepping away from the phone screens and into leafy green forests.

"I'm such a live-in-the-moment person," she says of her lack of identity on social media. While she might share a thought or two on social media, Mai is interested in appreciating the world around her. "I feel like everyone is so consumed about documenting the day, you don't really get to live the day. You just watch it back but I like to have the memories in my head. Of course, sometimes, I'll take out my phone but I try to live in the moment as much as possible."

Part of that mission is ensuring Earth Day is celebrated the right way. With the support of Mai, Richardson, and Dimayuga, The North Face officially launched a petition to make Earth Day a national holiday.

“The North Face is no stranger to exploration and this Earth Day we are proud to join our partners and fellow explorers in a global effort to make Earth Day a national holiday,” said Global General Manager of Lifestyle at The North Face, Tim Bantle. “We believe that when people take time to appreciate the Earth, they feel more connected to it and are more likely to protect it. Explore Mode urges us to unplug from our digital lives to connect in real life to the world, each other, and ourselves in the effort to move the world forward.”

Mai hasn't hit her all of her exploration goals just yet. "I really want to go to Indonesia or Bali," she said. "That's one of my Bucket List places I really, really, really wanna go." For her essentials, the singer knows she has to bring along a windbreaker set and of course, a jester backpack. "I think the backpack is the most important thing."

In addition to a few trips around the globe, one destination includes the studio for new music. While she hasn't had time to lock down a moment to record, the inspiration is sizzling.

"When I work in the studio, I like to be like there for a good amount of time," she explains. "I like to block off two to three weeks at a time, I don't like to go to different studios and different places, it's just a comfort thing but I'm very excited to get back cause I have a lot of talk about. I've seen so many different places and met so many new people and a lot that I didn't get to experience last year."

Learn more about The North Face's petition for Earth Day here.

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