Five Favorite Films

Tracee Ellis Ross's Five Favorite Films

The star of The High Note and black-ish shares her love of the movies that influenced her style, altered her life, and allowed her to finally see herself reflected on the screen.

by | May 26, 2020 | Comments

Tracee Ellis Ross

(Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

In feel-good romantic dramedy The High Note, Tracee Ellis Ross plays a larger-than-life pop diva who, at first glance, might bear more than a passing resemblance to her own mom, Diana. But Ross makes an impression all her own as Grace Davis, the singer who, after years of “greatest hits” albums and tours, yearns to make something fresh… and who can’t help but torture assistant Maggie (Dakota Johnson) with her celebrity neediness and diva antics. It’s The Devil Wears Prada with more music and more sun – the film is like a travelogue of L.A.’s finest vistas – and critics are applauding Ross’s wicked take on the boss from hell, who may just have a heart of gold.

The film was originally set to hit the big screen but will instead premiere on video on-demand following the COVID-19 outbreak. Ahead of its release, Rotten Tomatoes caught up with Ross to talk about her favorite movies, stepping into Grace’s diva shoes, and what it was like to release her first song.

Love Jones (1997) 80%

Let’s start with Love Jones, which is just a classic. One of the first times I saw myself reflected on screen in a way – just a beautiful story, a love story that felt textured and layered and interesting and beautifully shot, with Black people in the lead positions. The music, all of it, just touched a deep place in my soul and was fantastic.

Sabrina (1954) 93%

We will switch gears completely, and I will say the original Sabrina with Audrey Hepburn, which really influenced my style. Just driving up with her trunks of luggage on the back of the car… it was just such a beautiful film. The clothing, I just was like, whoa. The elegance of it, the time period, the black-and-whiteness of it, the cast. It’s just one of those classic films that kind of etched a place in my aesthetics of style and elegance.

Is it a film that you rewatch often?

You know, I’m not a person who really rewatches movies or television shows. It’s really hard for me to watch things twice. I get really anxious. Isn’t that bizarre? I get anxious because I know what’s going to happen. And for some reason, it’s really weird. As a result, I am not a person who can recite lines from movies and dialogue and scenes. Like, I’ve never been able to do that. It’s so funny. I will look back through magazines, but I don’t reread books. I reread I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Bluest Eye recently, but yeah, I don’t rewatch. Couldn’t you tell you why. The closest I can get to it is that it’s hard for me when I know what’s going to happen, but I don’t know.

Mahogany (1975) 32%

Yes, I have a close relationship to the lead of that film. But it was really the style and, again, seeing an all Black cast, and the beauty, the fashion in that film just blew me away. Blew me away.

Did you watch it as a kid? Or do you remember the first time seeing it?

No, I was much older when I finally watched it. I wasn’t a kid. It was not a kid’s movie. So I think I was in my twenties when I watched it. I’m sure I’ve seen it more than once, but I couldn’t tell you how many times.

Also I was in her belly and her character’s name was Tracy Chambers. I don’t know if that means anything. It’s like fate.

High Art (1998) 76%

I’ve never seen such a beautifully shot film. I think it was maybe one of the first “artsy” films I had ever seen. And to see this kind of story told so beautifully. I remember loving that film.

Moonlight (2016) 98%

Again, such a beautiful film. To see Blackness shared in this manner with such care and love and beauty, and the vulnerability in this film was just a sight to behold. I was so moved by how love was explored through this film.

Do you have a particular scene or moment from Moonlight that lingers with you the most?

There are two scenes. When he’s a teenager and he’s on the beach with his friend. That moment was just so beautiful, the way they sat there and talked to each other. And then towards the end when they connect again in that house; the way that love is expressed and the tangle of all of the societal ideas that are placed on Black men. To see that kind of strength and vulnerability at the same time was somewhat life-altering, actually.

Joel Meares for Rotten Tomatoes: You shared a video on Instagram of you listening to “Love Myself,” your song from The High Note – and you seemed completely overjoyed and moved by hearing the song and sharing it with people. Why does it mean so much to you right now to be releasing a song?

Tracee Ellis Ross: I think there’s lots of pieces to it. Number one, this is a childhood dream that, somewhere along the way, turned into my biggest fear. And I faced that fear and walked through it. And although I had already done the recording and obviously had heard the song before, this was the moment that I was sharing it with people that don’t know me.

I think it’s really important in our lives to celebrate big and small moments. And this felt like a big one for me. Somehow that Instagram Live felt incredibly intimate and also like a party. And I could have never expected that I would feel like that. I’ve never really done an Instagram – I mean, I’ve gone live for 10 seconds trying to figure out what Live means, but I’ve never advertised and planned, you know, a live party and a sharing of something. And it felt so connected and wonderful. There were 10,000 people in there, but it was really special.

I also think, in this very real time we’re in, where there is so much heaviness, so much loss, so much grief, the loss of livelihoods, the loss of lives, all of this is going on… a heaviness that my heart feels like so many other people, it felt really special to have a moment of lightness, a moment of joy, a moment of freedom, and a moment of sharing and connection. Although, in a different way than we are used to, it seemed to really be a moment of light in the middle of that.

Then there’s the fact that the message of the song is exactly a tonic for the times right now. And I feel like, put down your phone; it doesn’t matter what other people think. It’s like, what do you think of yourself? Love yourself. And that’s the message of the movie. And it felt really special to share that. You know, the message being that no matter the time, no matter the age, the phase, the stage you are at your life, no matter your circumstances, or even people telling you to stay in your lane, it’s never too late to go after what you want. It’s never too late to be who you are, and it’s always worth pursuing that.

Rotten Tomatoes: I’m sure there is some disappointment that this isn’t hitting movie theaters as expected, but it’s also a movie that is going to bring joy into people’s homes. Is this a movie that’s in some ways right for the moment we’re in?

Ross: You know, I can’t really determine that. I think that’s for everybody else to decide, but I do hope that this film brings them joy. It’s a feel-good movie. It’s not a heavy movie. It’s a really feel-good empowering movie. And we know music reaches into our hearts. You know, we all thought it was going to be a movie theater theatrical release, but I think this movie is perfectly suited for being in your home. I think it can be shared with your loved ones or watched by yourself. I think people can make an event of it and get themselves a cocktail or put some lemonade in a stemmed glass. I feel like it’s one of those movies that makes you go through all the emotions. There’s laughter. There’s tears. There’s joy. And there’s music. I mean, what more can you ask for? And there’s fashion, by the way, which also is very helpful.

Rotten Tomatoes: There was some very good fashion. There is a memorable scene where Grace is trying to clean out her closet, but can’t part with anything. Are you like that in real life? Do you struggle to get rid of some of your favorite outfits, or are you a total Marie Kondo?

Ross: I am. I am. I’m not like Grace in a lot of ways – most ways. I don’t share a lot with her. It was really fun to take on the persona of somebody who was larger-than-life like that. And I mean, one of my favorite moments of the movie, by the way, is when Maggie tells Grace that she’s dating someone or something and she’s like, “Does he know about me?” That killed me. I was like, wow, way to turn a moment in the wrong direction! So I am not at all like Grace, but I am in that way. It’s hard for me to let go of my clothing. I love holding onto stuff. It’s hard for me to say goodbye to it.

Rotten Tomatoes: Finally, you’ve grown up with musicians: Was there anyone who you turned to for advice on playing this role when you got it?

Ross: I didn’t. You know, the role was so beautifully written from its first incarnation. When I first read that first draft of the script,  it didn’t require a lot of research to look elsewhere. Also, it’s a world I come from, to a certain extent. There was a lot for me to draw on that just lives within my own experience. But the support that I got mostly came in the studio and in the recording process, which was one of the main places that I started to find who Grace was. And how to find her voice, which was combined with my voice. Rodney Jerkins, who is the producer – a very experienced and well-known producer – was my touchstone. He made me feel so safe and so supported, I was able to walk through my fear and get really comfortable.

Then of course I leaned towards friends in moments that I was having panic attacks. I was afraid about what I was doing. I called my sister and my brother who are both singers. And I have a friend that’s a manager in the industry, and I called him at one point. But mostly our director, Nisha [Ganatra], was wonderful, and the script was there, so I didn’t really have to call on anyone. It was all built into the process.

The High Note is available to rent or buy on demand May 29, 2020. 


The High Note (2020)

Adjusted Score: 83335%
Critics Consensus: The High Note doesn't quite soar above rom-com formula, but audiences seeking some comfort viewing should find themselves solidly in harmony with this well-acted genre entry.
Synopsis: Maggie is the overworked personal assistant to Grace Davis, a superstar singer whose talent and ego have reached unbelievable heights.... [More]
Directed By: Nisha Ganatra

Thumbnail image: Amy Sussman/Getty Images, Everett Collection, David Bornfriend/©A24, ©October Films, ©New Line Cinema, Everett Collection 

Tag Cloud

women Opinion blockbusters Cannes biography Trailer HBO elevated horror DirecTV werewolf Hulu RT21 The Witch First Reviews BAFTA social media Action vampires Premiere Dates ITV BBC singing competition Arrowverse screenings best SundanceTV Spring TV MGM Acorn TV Classic Film Ghostbusters mob Best Actress APB DC streaming service classics prank documentary finale Tokyo Olympics discovery 2019 Holidays kids President TLC Universal vs. PaleyFest 2015 romantic comedy Marvel Studios batman Tumblr NBA FX on Hulu italian Wes Anderson Binge Guide Masterpiece BBC America Disney Plus binge Set visit justice league genre worst movies 99% Oscar live event mission: impossible Sundance Now sequels black Rock Universal Pictures Infographic Paramount Plus docuseries razzies Music Food Network king arthur aapi legend french Countdown period drama Tomatazos debate movies NYCC what to watch Marvel Television quibi documentaries Drama universal monsters ABC Family MTV Fall TV YouTube travel international Christmas Watching Series Comedy LGBT DC Comics Focus Features critic resources trophy concert BBC One cops suspense cancelled television Captain marvel Tags: Comedy DC Universe scene in color rt labs Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt olympics FX FXX See It Skip It Winners 007 South by Southwest Film Festival composers archives hollywood satire TV movies Neflix rt labs critics edition new zealand Pet Sematary Apple TV Plus Freeform Rom-Com rt archives USA Vudu YouTube Red twilight 20th Century Fox Brie Larson diversity TCA 2017 VICE Spike based on movie toy story festivals breaking bad 1990s Baby Yoda chucky TV One canceled comics children's TV RT History Crunchyroll zombie Video Games book adaptation kaiju summer preview award winner movie Funimation VOD CBS All Access renewed TV shows Crackle Travel Channel Fargo Film Showtime Legendary Star Wars docudrama 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards laika video on demand HBO Go TCA Awards scary Bravo Marvel Cosplay The Walt Disney Company japan boxing TruTV Trivia Anna Paquin scorecard serial killer supernatural stand-up comedy true crime Sundance south america Reality Competition Hollywood Foreign Press Association CNN marvel cinematic universe BET Awards police drama talk show cooking crime Interview comic Broadway 21st Century Fox halloween golden globes Certified Fresh nbcuniversal Exclusive Video christmas movies Discovery Channel Pixar IMDb TV Image Comics emmy awards marvel comics spider-man teaser ghosts spinoff cults SXSW 2022 BET Star Trek festival 2021 Amazon Studios crime drama AMC Plus theme song Family Creative Arts Emmys broadcast TCA Winter 2020 lord of the rings ABC Signature Ovation American Society of Cinematographers boxoffice YA Summer Ellie Kemper criterion saw sag awards A24 USA Network Paramount Pictures 2020 stop motion 2018 Character Guide Shudder obi wan indie Fox Searchlight natural history romance Holiday zombies ID comic book movie hispanic blaxploitation comedies historical drama Polls and Games El Rey slasher Spectrum Originals Film Festival Dark Horse Comics crossover Lifetime Christmas movies joker 94th Oscars Television Academy war spy thriller Logo Epix Comedy Central halloween tv Writers Guild of America Mystery Tarantino cars cinemax Pop Kids & Family Nickelodeon scary movies Superheroe facebook Thanksgiving Cartoon Network trailers Reality Hear Us Out Valentine's Day rotten movies we love 45 Sundance TV high school PBS comiccon hidden camera Amazon Prime Video worst 71st Emmy Awards adaptation sitcom Heroines Syfy TCA Disney GLAAD psychological thriller Hallmark football richard e. Grant hist monster movies Quiz revenge Turner Classic Movies The Purge Comics on TV Mary poppins fast and furious dexter cancelled TV series gangster MCU Apple TV+ Comic-Con@Home 2021 mutant Academy Awards sopranos directors venice Pop TV Best Actor Peacock mockumentary spider-verse name the review kong Emmy Nominations Lifetime Rocketman cats game show Martial Arts animated CBS superman TV renewals VH1 deadpool 79th Golden Globes Awards PlayStation TNT golden globe awards politics Walt Disney Pictures Best Director strong female leads dark book Fantasy IFC Films die hard heist movie summer TV preview popular Paramount foreign transformers hispanic heritage month Esquire Schedule interviews The CW Lucasfilm summer TV blockbuster GIFs australia critics art house young adult Super Bowl Netflix Biopics japanese target Western E3 ViacomCBS television Women's History Month jurassic park Best Picture biopic First Look psycho Shondaland screen actors guild Mary Poppins Returns Tubi Best and Worst OneApp dceu free movies miniseries feel good Endgame Teen posters Oscars HFPA doctor who reviews Calendar Country ratings independent wonder woman game of thrones pirates of the caribbean cancelled The Arrangement streamig rom-coms MSNBC child's play godzilla comic books NBC Photos slashers science fiction nature Chernobyl 90s anime news Pirates Black History Month technology YouTube Premium TIFF canceled TV shows The Walking Dead Musical Columbia Pictures TBS rotten basketball Alien action-comedy video tv talk Lionsgate political drama Instagram Live A&E thriller comic book movies new star wars movies series obituary Winter TV Sci-Fi zero dark thirty Grammys Trophy Talk mcc Mary Tyler Moore dreamworks superhero 4/20 Superheroes Musicals Year in Review Pacific Islander black comedy sports casting Toys parents cancelled TV shows fresh aliens Disney Channel dramedy all-time new york telelvision Fox News New York Comic Con latino TCM LGBTQ Turner nfl E! dragons Awards 73rd Emmy Awards TV Land AMC streaming stoner History unscripted green book robots 93rd Oscars versus Prime Video Emmys Awards Tour CMT Stephen King franchise jamie lee curtis Comic Book National Geographic Nominations GoT CW Seed medical drama Horror reboot Pride Month know your critic Podcast OWN Song of Ice and Fire IFC cartoon Red Carpet Warner Bros. 24 frames indiana jones toronto a nightmare on elm street WarnerMedia San Diego Comic-Con X-Men Disney streaming service Amazon crime thriller Britbox SDCC Extras Sony Pictures Apple HBO Max Netflix Christmas movies live action Adult Swim adventure witnail adenture dc Disney+ Disney Plus Starz Chilling Adventures of Sabrina anthology Mindy Kaling ABC royal family leaderboard FOX Avengers Nat Geo 2016 films SXSW james bond spain Box Office TV Amazon Prime sequel Black Mirror Elton John streaming movies 72 Emmy Awards DGA The Academy harry potter space Television Critics Association Rocky remakes dogs Election Sneak Peek asian-american ESPN Paramount Network WGN spanish Marathons 2017 Animation disaster spanish language Hallmark Christmas movies Mudbound king kong