How Girlfriends Helped Tracee Ellis Ross Become a Hollywood Star

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Tracee Ellis Ross’s biggest career achievement came when she landed the lead role in the hit UPN/The CW series Girlfriends.

In the show, she starred as Joan Carol Clayton, a successful (and often neurotic) lawyer looking for love, challenges, and adventure. The series centered on four (later three) young African-American women and their male best friend.

Girlfriends showcases a dynamic group of friends portrayed by actresses Jill Marie Jones as Toni Childs-Garrett, Golden Brooks as Maya Wilkes, Tracee Ellis Ross as Joan Clayton, and Persia White as Lynn SearcyGirlfriends showcases a dynamic group of friends portrayed by actresses Jill Marie Jones as Toni Childs-Garrett, Golden Brooks as Maya Wilkes, Tracee Ellis Ross as Joan Clayton, and Persia White as Lynn Searcy (Credit: UPN)

Tracee Ellis Ross is biracial in real life, but her character Joan Clayton is not. Joan is portrayed as a black woman in the series.

Persia White, on the other hand, is biracial both in real life and in the series. Her character Lynn Searcy is a biracial woman who was adopted by a white family.

The only cast member to appear in every episode of the series, Ross’s performance as Joan was critically acclaimed, and she won two NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series in 2007 and 2009.

The American sitcom television series created by Mara Brock Akil was a ratings success, and it ran for eight seasons from 2000 to 2008.

The show’s popularity helped to make Ross a household name, and she has since gone on to star in several other successful projects, including Black-ish and Coming 2 America.

The cast of Girlfriends, including Jill Marie Jones, Persia White, Golden Brooks, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Reggie Hayes, celebrating the show's 100th episodeThe cast of Girlfriends, including Jill Marie Jones, Persia White, Golden Brooks, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Reggie Hayes, celebrating the show’s 100th episode at Stage 23, Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, California, on October 6, 2004 (Credit: Marty Hause / Startraksphoto)

During the premiere of “Girlfriends” on September 11, 2000, on UPN, Tracee Ellis Ross, who played Joan Carol Clayton, was 27 years old, having been born on October 29, 1972. She turned 28 on October 29, 2000.

“I was feeling good but I was also terrified. It was a big moment in my life getting cast in Girlfriends [as Joan Clayton]. I look back at photographs and my hair was thriving. I was very skinny. When I’m scared, I don’t eat, so I guess that’s what was going on. As Girlfriends progressed, my body filled out. I got comfortable,” she told Bustle about being cast in Girlfriends.

I had been living in Los Angeles for a little bit, in the same apartment I found when I first moved there. I was still driving my black Nissan Pathfinder that I got when I was a teenager. I waited until Season 2 [of Girlfriends] to purchase a new car.

From a financial standpoint, it was the first time I was able to experience a little bit of a deep breath. Like, “I’m OK. I can support myself and I know that I’ve got money.” Before every season, I would buy myself a gift — something that I never would have thought I could have afforded before. It was something special.

Golden Brooks, portraying Maya Denise Wilkes, was 29 years old, born on December 1, 1970. Persia White, who portrayed Lynn Ann Searcy, was also 27 years old, with her birthday on October 25, 1972.

Jill Marie Jones, playing Antoinette “Toni” Marie Childress Garrett, was 25 years old, born on January 4, 1975. Reggie Hayes, who portrayed William Jerome Dent, was the oldest among them, being 31 years old during the show’s premiere, having been born on July 15, 1969.

Jill Marie Jones, Golden Brooks, Reggie Hayes, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Persia White delivered exceptional performances in the TV series "Girlfriends," contributing to its overall improvement and successJill Marie Jones, Golden Brooks, Reggie Hayes, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Persia White delivered exceptional performances in the TV series “Girlfriends,” contributing to its overall improvement and success (Credit: Marty Hause / Startraksphoto)

The running gag in the series is that Maya is the youngest, and Toni is the eldest. However, in real life, the opposite is true. Jill Marie Jones is the youngest of the four actresses, followed by Tracee Ellis Ross, Persia White, and Golden Brooks.

The 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike halted production on many television shows, including Girlfriends. When the strike ended, the CW decided not to renew the show for a ninth season. The final episode of Girlfriends aired on February 11, 2008.

Tracee Ellis Ross Honored for Passion for Fighting for Fair Treatment

Tracee Ellis Ross may have won numerous awards for her on-camera work as a comedian, but off-camera, the actress has quite an accomplishment for humanity.

Tracee Ellis Ross was honored with the Lucy Award for Excellence in Television at the 2017 Women In Film Crystal + Lucy AwardsTracee Ellis Ross was honored with the Lucy Award for Excellence in Television at the 2017 Women In Film Crystal + Lucy Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel in Los Angeles on June 14, 2017 (Credit: Apega / Nicky Nelson / Adriana M. Barraza / WENN)

The daughter of actress and Motown recording artist Diana Ross and Robert Ellis Silberstein, she has never shied away from speaking out on equality, stating that it’s not just women or African-Americans that need fair treatment but everyone.

Tracee Ellis Ross brings a pop of color to the event in a Max Mara outfitTracee Ellis Ross brings a pop of color to the event in a Max Mara outfit (Credit: Apega / Nicky Nelson / Adriana M. Barraza / WENN)

In June 2017, Tracee was honored at the 2017 Women In Film Crystal + Lucy Awards for her passion for fighting for what’s fair.

Tracee Ellis Ross displays her feet in satin Jimmy Choo "Kris" bow sandalsTracee Ellis Ross displays her feet in satin Jimmy Choo “Kris” bow sandals (Credit: Apega / Nicky Nelson / Adriana M. Barraza / WENN)

Max Mara hosted the event, so we naturally saw Tracee in their trademark color pop clothes.

Tracee Ellis Ross wraps up her fun and quirky look with satin Jimmy Choo "Kris" sandalsTracee Ellis Ross wraps up her fun and quirky look with satin Jimmy Choo “Kris” sandals (Credit: Apega / Nicky Nelson / Adriana M. Barraza / WENN)

Tracee wore a knit top and a shirred skirt from Max Mara’s Pre-Fall 2017 collection. Mixing her pinks and purples, the actress pulled off a cotton candy look.

Tracee Ellis Ross is a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industryTracee Ellis Ross is a vocal advocate for diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry (Credit: Apega / Nicky Nelson / Adriana M. Barraza / WENN)

The comedian finished her look with a pair of Jimmy Choo “Kris” bow sandals in satin.

Tracee Ellis Ross attends The Women In Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, which are named after Lucille Ball and Lucy Stone, two trailblazing women in the entertainment industryTracee Ellis Ross attends The Women In Film Crystal + Lucy Awards, which are named after Lucille Ball and Lucy Stone, two trailblazing women in the entertainment industry (Credit: Apega / Nicky Nelson / Adriana M. Barraza / WENN)

Not only was Tracee honored that night, but she also got two heartwarming surprises.

Tracee was caught off guard when her best friend, Aisha Tyler, arrived at the event. The two shared a huge hug after Aisha gave Tracee a warm introduction.

Then, Tracee received a surprise video message from former First Lady Michelle Obama.

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