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Good old family values!

NEW: Reed between the lines cast

FOR ALL those who have been in a flap recently about the representation of black folks in TV dramas, US network BET (Black Entertainment Television) might just have the answer.

No, we shouldn’t always have to look Stateside for positive representations of the black experience. But while British programme controllers seem happy enough giving viewers one street drama after another, props must be given to anyone who’s at least trying to break the mould.

Enter Reed Between the Lines; a family-orientated drama, focusing on a modern-day married couple who navigate the ups and downs of family life with wit and humour.

Coming from a large family herself, Tracee Ellis Ross knows a thing or two about family values. The daughter of soul legend Diana Ross and Ross’s first husband Robert Ellis Silberstein, Tracee says that playing working mother Carla Reed in BET’s latest sitcom was made that much easier because she had a wonderful inspiration courtesy of her real life matriarch.

“I think I bring a lot of my mum into this role,” said the 39-year-old actress on a recent trip to London. “I think that if I could even begin to hold a candle to portraying the kind of mother that my mum was, I’ll be doing something right."

“My mum is my biggest example of motherhood because I’m not a mother yet. So I think it was inevitable that I would bring some of her into this role.”

We are family: Tracee (in white) with mum Diana Ross and siblings (l-r) Rhonda, Ross, Evan and Chudney

l Continued from page 19

DESCRIBING the show, Tracee explained: “It’s a family orientated show about a happily married couple who are making it work.
“I play a psychologist and I have my own practice in New York. My husband, played by Malcolm-Jamal Warner, is an English professor. It’s a show about running a family and making it work.”
Reed Between the Lines may just be what black British audiences are looking for to redress the balance of black representation on our screens. Just a few weeks back, Channel 4 drama Top Boy caused quite a stir, with many black viewers objecting to the themes of gun and drug culture that surrounded the lives of the predominantly black cast.
It would seem that the huge publicity Top Boy received didn’t escape even Ms. Ross when she arrived in London town.

“I saw the billboards for that,” she exclaimed, before addressing the matter of black representation on TV.

“That’s a universal issue; it’s not just black Brits that feel that way,” she laughed.

“Obviously, in the US, we have a larger range of black programming, but, there’s still a desire for television shows that provide a variety of representations so that we can have a balance. That’s why I’m really excited about this show; I know BET really wanted this show to represent us in a way that we’re not always represented.”

With her co-star Malcolm-Jamal Warner famed for his role as Theo Huxtable in the iconic black sitcom The Cosby Show, he too will be all too familiar with the dynamics of a family show. How does Tracee describe her on-screen husband?

“He is an a**hole… I’m kidding,” she says with a huge laugh. “He’s great. We’re really good friends and we’re both producing on the show, so we’ve almost become this two-headed being. We work incredibly well together.

“I think producing on the show alleviates some pressure because we’re able to bring our voices to the table; we’re able to be a part of the process. This show has really been a collaborative effort that has included many voices, which is wonderful.”

Famed for her role in the US sitcom Girlfriends, Tracee has extensive experience in theatre, TV and film. But despite her current fame and the privileges that one might assume would come from being the daughter of an icon, the bubbly actress remains pleasant and down-to-earth.

“I had a very good life, but it was still normal,” Tracee says of her childhood. “I went to school just like other kids and after school, my mum sat with us for dinner. I was reprimanded too – not that I was a naughty child! But I was a hyper child, which was a lot for my mum! I was a very much like my father."

“I was a nice kid, but I think I drove my mum nuts sometimes. But it would only take one reprimanding from her and I’d know not to do whatever it was again!”

Describing her mum, she says: “She’s just great. I talk to her way too much and I save all of the voicemails she leaves me. I can’t help it! It could be simple messages like, ‘It’s mum, just calling to say hi!’

“She’s a great friend and we have a very special relationship. I have a close relationship with all my family. If we don’t hear from each other for a couple of days, it’s like, ‘Where are you?’”

Dismissing the media reports that have portrayed her mum as a demanding diva, she says: “I never know what that’s about. My mum is adorable.”
Back to the programme, Tracee hopes it will resonate well with the UK audience.
“I hope it’s the kind of show that brings families together. You can watch it with your partner, you can watch it with your kids – it’s a family show.”

l Reed Between the Lines is on every Tuesday at 8.30pm on BET, Sky Channel 191

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