Image: Lauren Dukoff (Vanity Fair/Conde Nast)

“The business is finally catching up to the genius that is Tracee,” says Kerry Washington.

“Genius” is an apt word to describe Tracee Ellis Ross, who, after eight seasons on Girlfriends and four on Black-ish (which turned a dramatic corner at the end of its last season, thanks in part to Ross’ directorial debut on the show), a TED Talk gone viral and helping to spearhead the #TimesUp movement, is steadily changing the conversation around what it means to be a Hollywood powerhouse.

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Vanity Fair clearly recognizes her power, placing her on the cover of its Special Awards issue, out now. In the accompanying interview, Ross talks about being a “child of” (in her case, the legendary Diana Ross), finally gaining recognition at this point in her career, and why people need to stay the hell out of her uterus:

Last year, I was [fictionally] pregnant all season. That brought on a lot of comments and questions and pontifications from people with no invitation. I literally have said to people, for real, no joke, “Why don’t you just get out of my womb? Like, get out of my uterus? What are you doing in there? And why are you asking those questions? And what makes you think you can ask that?” Part of what patriarchy has created for women is this siloed-off experience, with one answer for what a good life looks like.

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As a woman blazing her own path in Hollywood and defining her own life on her own terms, Ross says her own famous mother set an early example:

I saw a woman who just was making a path and doing it on her own. She didn’t have hundreds of people doing everything for her—my mom always packed her own bags and cooked our food. She was doing it all. ... It was very capable, incredibly capable and present at the same time. ... My mother is a woman who completely possessed her own agency and embodied a sense of her own power, unapologetically.

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She also got candid with Vanity Fair about what it means to be a black woman in television, and how success is no assurance of access:

When I was on Girlfriends, I thought I would be able to get on David Letterman or Jay Leno or some talk show, and I never—it never happened. After being the lead on a show for eight years that did incredibly well, I thought perhaps the seas might part and I would have my choice and my pick of the litter—no, that didn’t happen. ... We’re in a very different time now, where you can produce and create—and [Insecure creator-star] Issa Rae is such a great example—but that didn’t exist when I was on Girlfriends. You couldn’t create a show for YouTube and then get it to go on HBO.

Humbly, Ross doesn’t acknowledge that her own rise likely made Rae’s possible, but she does discuss how much representation matters, however slow a process it may be:

We know that storytelling changes how we see ourselves and how others see us. There’s evidence of this. These things make a difference. They’re not for naught. Do I think that television is changing the world? Yes and no. There’s a tilling of the soil that occurs.

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Ross also revisited the black dress and turban she wore to this year’s Golden Globes in solidarity with the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements: “It felt like I didn’t have to say much because my clothing was saying a lot. ... Sort of an owning of my legacy, both my personal legacy, as my mom’s child, and as a black woman.”

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We couldn’t be bigger supporters of Ross’ rise, especially since it’s happening on her own terms. Here’s to a woman who is living in fearless fashion, and makes us a little happier to be free black women every day.