“I didn’t know who her mother was when I met her,” Michaela angela Davis said of Tracee Ellis Ross, her friend of twenty years and co-executive producer of The Hair Tales alongside Oprah Winfrey. During a recent TCA press conference, Michaela and Tracee answered questions about their new show from The Onyx Collective, which launched today on Hulu. “I met Tracee in a fashion closet at Mirabella Magazine, just aged myself, and I was drawn to her by not just her spirit but her style. And I do think [her] hair was out with like a retro beret maybe, and I want to say a rock and roll tee shirt… Something was happening on the head that I was like this girl has got something special. So I didn’t even know who her mother was when I met her.”
In case you didn’t know, black-ish star Tracee Ellis Ross is the daughter of legendary singer, actress, and style icon Diana Ross. “There's this expression that people always ask me: ‘Did you grow up in your mother's shadow?’”, Tracee explained. “And I did not. I grew up in my mother's embrace. And our hair is one of the ways that we’ve been able to open up that space. If you think of Black women as domestics in this country, and then you think of the expansion that happened in the kitchen, if you think of the business of hair and what that did within the Black community for Black women to find agency, to utilize their ingenuity and their sense of accomplishment and entrepreneurship and all of these things. For me, my hair and figuring out my hair and my own hair journey has really been an onramp now for me into my career and a way that I have defined myself as a person. A way that I have allowed myself to have versatility of identities, and then to continue to use the platform that I’ve been given to open that up to more than just me, to what I come from, to what makes me what I am, and that’s not just the legacy of my mother. It’s the legacy historically of who we are from Detroit to Dakar, you know, and who we are as an intertwined, interconnected, incredible tapestry of human beings across the globe.”
Michaela is named after activist, philosopher, academic, scholar, and author Angela Davis, whom she has no blood relationship to, but she shared that there is a connection to The Hair Tales. “I've had the honor of meeting her and talking with her and being in her energy,” Michaela revealed. “The afro is the most iconic, arguably, the most iconic hairstyle at least in America. The most politically charged hairstyle. The hair that looks like a halo. It's round. It floats. It goes up. And Angela Davis is the kind of iconic figure for the afro, right? Even though we can look at the whole Black Power movement, the Black Panther Party, there were afros everywhere. Everybody's 1970s school picture, you have a fro, The Silvers, the Jackson 5. Like, afros are our hairstyle that defied gravity but did only what our hair can do. But there was so much politics packed in it, and Angela Davis, because of her fierceness, because of her advocacy, because of her beauty, because of her brilliance, because of her complexity, she came to be the most known person to rock a fro. So, I love that connection, and I also love it because it's light in color because that was such an odd thing for me growing up because I had very, very thick, nappy hair that was blonde. And those two things didn’t naturally go together, it was a flashpoint. She was one of the few people in popular culture where I kind of saw myself. This idea of seeing yourself is really important. When we think about Black women and Black girls and why we are so energetic about getting our images out there, pictures, it's because you frame who other people say you are, and it feeds into your self-worth, whether you want to. So Angela Davis, with all that hair, all that power, all that courage, I'm keeping the connection.”
The Hair Tales presents conversations about hair from Black women, so it’s no wonder that the show’s origins started as a conversation among friends. “Our friendship over these years has been anchored in style, justice, and joy,” Tracee said of her decades-long friendship with Michaela. “When Michaela brought this idea for us to develop into television together, it was really an evolution of us discovering something together that we have loved this whole time, which is Black women. And it was a combination of us loving ourselves and loving the sisterhood that we come from and wanting to see it represented in the world in a way that had a more true reflection of what our experience of it has been. Those hair heroes, those hair believers, those people that have paved an opening for all of us to live these liberated, embodied lives and experiences. And the women that we interviewed, both the known women — Issa and Oprah and Ayanna and Chika and Marsai and Chlöe, the known women, but also the women whose names you don’t know that also hold the same space-opening for those in their world and everywhere… It has been so important to me and to us as we've made this show for it to really be about us, not about any one of us. That it is really a reflection of the wholeness of what we bring to the world.”
The Hair Tales is now streaming on Hulu.