'Black-ish' Star Tracee Ellis Ross Talks About Using TV to Showcase the Black Experience

Since its debut in 2014, ABC's Black-ish has sparked entertaining and thoughtful dialogue on the black American experience. Now five seasons in, the sitcom—starring Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross—continues to spotlight traditions, legacies and figures that have an impact on black culture in the U.S.

On the upcoming 100th episode celebration on Tuesday, Black-ish will honor one of the music industry's most influential and beloved artists, Prince, as the Johnson family patriarchs Andre (Anderson) and Rainbow (Ellis Ross) introduce their growing twins Jack and Diane, played by Miles Brown and Marasi Martin, to Prince's extensive repertoire.

Through the series's usual charming comedy and an array of fantastical (and hilarious) musical performances—several cast members will embody The Purple One during the show—the 100th episode, appropriately titled, "Purple Rain," will serve as a teaching moment for Prince's legacy and his many contributions toward not only black culture but the world.

It's an aspect of Black-ish that drew Ellis Ross in from the very start of the show and continued through 100 episodes. See the full interview with Ellis Ross below.

How did it feel going into filming that 100th episode?

Honestly, a little bit surreal. It felt like I couldn't believe there was any way we had actually done that many episodes, and I remember feeling a similar way when I came to the 100th episode of Girlfriends. You're just so busy doing each episode that you're not really counting them, and all of a sudden, verging upon 100, you're like, "There's no way we have been working for that long!" The only reason I can believe it is because of how grown and amazing and beautiful the kids are. It has to be 100 because they're tall now and grown up.

Even the twins have really grown up.

They were 8 years old [when the show first started]. It's crazy.

You guys are paying homage to Prince on the 100th episode and also teaching the twins about his legacy and how he's contributed to music. As someone who knew Prince since you were 12 years old, is it shocking that young people today aren't aware of who he is?

I think in all honesty there's a lot of that happening, and that's the beauty of art—we get to continue telling our stories and sharing those things that actually have an impact on our lives that all generations can have access to.

I think that's what our show does in many different ways about all the stuff that matters to our community. That was one of the things I really loved [about Black-ish] first walking into this show. Even with the "n-word" episode, for example, there's a generation of young people that watch Black-ish and really don't know the historical context of that word. They know it's in rap songs and people have disputes about it but never really had the opportunity to understand the historical context and what comes with that word.

I think it was the same way with Prince. I was so pleased that such an iconic, extraordinary artist and a national, international, global treasure who is also an absolute treasure to the black community can be celebrated on the show. We get to not only introduce our twins but many people to the legacy and the joy, artistry, magic and the talent and the craft of somebody like Prince that they otherwise would not have seen or been able to grasp the fullness of it. They may know a song, but they might not know the fullness of who he is and what he's done.

You're performing Prince's "Erotic City" on the episode. How fun was that experience?

It was the best thing. First of all, do not give our cast the idea that we're gonna have music, choreography and wardrobe, hair and makeup. I have never been more excited in my life and I got the opportunity to not only be Prince but I was in two different bits. It was so much fun. Shout out to hair, makeup and wardrobe because they made our fantasy, our dreams come true in the shortest amount of time in ways that you can't even believe is possible. They make magic in a number of days. I was so excited to transform myself into Prince. It was better than Halloween.

I was able to watch Anthony Anderson's performance.

Did you see the one where he has his midriff out?

Yes, I saw that one. He performed "Kiss."

Are you scarred for life? Are you OK? [laughs]

I thought it was hilarious. His confidence is unmatched.

I was in the scene with him and I had to stay in serious [laughs], which wasn't easy. He's amazing.

How will the twins and their experience growing up affect the family throughout the rest of the season?

This is the real-life challenge and we get to do it through comedy, but we get to evolve, all of us. We've still got the baby Devante and a couple of things that are new and interesting. And the same way Zoey [Yara Shahidi] went off the college and Junior [Marcus Scribner] seems to want to stay home, we just move with it the same way families do. You kind of evolve as the family evolves. You grow as the family grows. We've got extraordinary writers that keep coming up with other ways to fold it in and tell stories that match what we're all walking through in our lives.

What does this 100th episode mean to you?

It means so much. It means people are receiving and enjoying our show. It means that we have created a body of work and I'm leaving a legacy of this show that I feel very proud of. This is the second time in my career, which makes me feel really old [laughs], but I feel really, really honored that two very iconic shows I've been a part of have wonderful black leads in the cast and are enjoying the legacy of being television shows people really love.