How often have you turned on the TV or watched movies looking for people that reflect who you see in the mirror? The answer is probably going to be, quite often. Sure, Hollywood is more diverse than it has ever been, but just because we’re seeing more and more Black people in leading roles doesn’t necessarily mean that all of the intricacies and complexities of our stories are being told. Yolonda Ross is part of the evolving face of Black people onscreen as an actress in roles such as Dana Lyndsey on Treme, Claudia on How To Get Away With Murder, and Ms. Green in The Get Down, but she’s also making it her business and part of her mission as a creative behind the camera to change this.
A veteran in the game, Yolonda is returning to TV screens everywhere for season 2 of the Lena Waithe-produced series The Chi as Jada. In case you’re unfamiliar, Jada is a working single mother who is still raising and support her grown son Emmett, portrayed by Jacob Latimore. Her character reflects the epitome of Black motherhood by leading with wisdom and love, but by also being sure to hold her child responsible for his actions. Yolonda masterfully portrays Jada as a mother that uses tough love whenever she has to in order to help her son grow into his manhood and fatherhood simultaneously without the help of a male counterpart. This is what makes Jada so relatable.
“We get into…grown folks territory. We find out and get to see her go through things that I think single women [and] single mothers will identify with,” Yolonda shared.
She continued, “I feel there are single mothers in everybody’s life, and to see yourself on screen in a way where life is not perfect, but you’re handling it — they’re the people that don’t get the pat on the back, they don’t get the raise. It’s life that they’re living and taking care of. I feel it’s an applause to them, and I hope that they take it that way. We seem to be getting the praise for it so far, so I want to keep doing that work.”
Jada’s love for her son Emmett runs deep and exemplifies just a fraction of what Black love within our community is about. Sometimes it’s about the relationships between parents and their children, other times it’s about brother or sisterhood, but more often than not, when people think of love they think of romantic connections that last for life.
Love, romance, connecting with one another soul-to-soul is what most people desire, but when Yolonda realized that she wasn’t necessarily relating to love stories that she saw onscreen or hearing the breadth of stories that exist in the universe of Black love, she took matters into her own hands and developed her forthcoming independent film Scenes From Our Marriage.
Scenes From Our Marriage explores the relationship between Ela (Clarke Peters) and Legbani (Yolonda Ross), two actors who are Broadway stars that also happen to be married on and offstage. As Legbani’s star rises due to her stellar onstage performance in a racially charged play, What A Difference A Shade Makes, the couple’s love, trust, and bond are quickly put to the test when Ela’s star is dimmed by the glow of his wife’s talent. These complexities as they relate to Black creatives is something that Yolonda has never seen and wanted to explore to expand the representation of different types of Black people on screen as the writer, director, executive producer and lead actress of the film.
“I felt it was important to make something that showcased people that I felt I was because I still don’t feel like I’ve seen myself on screen. I have many friends that feel the same way. We’re not flashy, we’re not poor, or whatever type of stereotype that they sell to us — we’re people living. We do what we do, we do what we need to do to get by, and we do well. But also, we’re not wonder women, we’re not super men — we’re people,” Yolonda explained.
Whether Yolonda is the creative force in front of or behind the camera, one thing is certain — her confident, honest performances and her creative mind bring another dimension to Black womanhood, how we see ourselves, but most importantly, Black love.
Watch Yolonda Ross as Jada in “The Chi”, airing Sundays at 10 p.m. ET.