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Tracee Ellis Ross on black-ish Stepping Outside the Box for Black History Month Episode

That Octavia Spencer cameo was everything

Keisha Hatchett

black-ish has never shied away from tough, topical conversations, and Thursday's Black History Month-themed episode opened up a meaningful yet humorous dialogue about what it means to celebrate the annual holiday.

Tracee Ellis Ross directed the meaty half hour, which saw Dre (Anthony Anderson) become upset that his kids were only learning about the same handful of important figures in black history. Volunteering to deliver a presentation at their school, he hoped to educate them on someone who really exemplified the honorary month. However, he quickly found himself overwhelmed by the impossible task of picking the perfect person that encompassed all of black history.

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While Dre grappled with how to best honor Black History Month, Ross was tasked with balancing black-ish's piercing humor with the seriousness the situation calls for, while also delivering something easily digestible for a mainstream audience.

"My internal conversation was how do we phrase this in a way that allows for the humor to come through but also the depth and importance of these stories without trivializing the month? How do you frame it with comedy in a way that opens people's minds to a different way of thinking about something," Ross told TV Guide.

The episode honed in on Dre's struggle, which sparked a nuanced discussion that saw three generations of Johnsons offer up varying perspectives on who they thought was important enough to be included in the presentation. Andre (Marcus Scribner) pushed for NBA great LeBron James, while Diane (Marsai Martin) nominated her school's principal. In a great moment of intersectionality, Bo urged her husband to consider a black woman like Michelle Obama while Ruby (Jenifer Lewis), the self-proclaimed mother of all African Americans, threw her own name into the mix. Through this talk, what they all learned, and what Ross hopes the audience will take away from this episode, is that celebrating black history shouldn't be limited to one month out of the year.

"The point of the episode is really that [black history] is a lifetime of an experience to share in always and at all times. And there are all different kinds of people. There is no way you can choose one person that is an example of everybody," Ross explained to TV Guide. "We are varied in who we are as people, in the experiences that we have, the contributions that we've made and the kinds of contributions that we make to our culture as a society."

The show also took an out-of-the-box approach to both educate and entertain its viewers. Following the format of those "The More You Know" public service announcements, a clever gag featured Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer contextualizing the importance of the famous names mentioned throughout the episode.

"It was like a really old-school device that we used in a new way as sort of an internal conscience," Ross said. "I think we all get in a rut about what [Black History Month] means and we lose that flavor of it."

With the use of a familiar educational tool and an Oscar winner to help deliver its message, the ABC comedy invited viewers to really think about how we handle Black History Month and the different ways in which we honor black heroes of the past, present and future. Offering up a fresh perspective, the ABC comedy delivered one of its strongest installments to date.

black-ish airs Tuesdays at 9/8c on ABC.

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