• Golden Globe Awards

Black Actors with Famous Parents Who Became Famous Too

Having famous parents could either be a blessing or a curse to children who want to follow their parents’ paths.
They are either compared to their popular parents or they are pressured to live up to the expectations of the public that they are as good as their elders. The curse could be forever living in the shadows of their moms and dads.
We are featuring five Black actors who are children of famous parents and who became successful based on their own talents and merits.

Tracee Ellis Ross

The singer-actress, who was born in Los Angles, California, is the daughter of no less than the iconic diva herself, Diana Ross, and music business manager Robert Ellis Silberstein.
Tracee Ellis Ross, a Golden Globe winner for her performance as Dr. Rainbow “Bow” Johnson in the comedy series Black-ish, spoke about her mom in a podcast interview with the HFPA in 2020.
She said, “She’s my mommy and I call her mama. I called her mommy for years and then finally I call her mama and I do it all the time.
“When I think of Diana Ross, though, I think of a woman whose career actually is part of the reason I can have the career I have. She created a path that didn’t exist and was a trailblazer that opened up the ability for me to be a Black woman who has agency and choice in how I navigate my career, and who isn’t afraid to be as big as I want to be.”
Ross, who played a superstar singer, Grace Davis, in the musical comedy-drama The High Note, made her singing debut in the recording soundtrack album titled “The High Note” at the age of 48.
Now 50, Ross told us in that same interview how close she is with her mom. She revealed, “I make my mom laugh a lot which I really love. We love laughing as a family but I love making her laugh.”
As for her mom’s cooking, Ross disclosed, “My mom’s a great cook. She was always up early so she made breakfast when we were all home. I usually woke up with the sound and smell of breakfast being cooked.
“My mom makes amazing scrambled cheese eggs. She makes amazing bacon and amazing grits for breakfast.”
In an HFPA press conference, also in 2020, Ross shared that her mom made a pact with her three daughters when they were growing up. “My mom said she wouldn’t leave us for longer than a week and she would record at night when we were asleep. So she would still wake us up for school in the morning, she would still be with us for dinner and if she wasn’t, she would always call us at dinner time, bedtime, and in the morning. I will say that the way things were a little dicey is there were times when I just wanted my mom but Diana Ross and the attention, it was different. We would make a choice.
“My mom would say, do you want me to come to this school play or whatever it is, knowing that it might pull the attention a little bit. She was really conscious of it and very sensitive to the reality of the magnitude of her career and of what it would do in terms of parenting.
“But I do remember certain things where my grandmother was with us and I was calling my mom crying like, I want you; I don’t want my grandma kind of thing. But she never left for long, and maybe that’s why I turned out okay. She was a very good mom and we were her priority in terms of schedules.”

John David Washington

The eldest of four children of award-winning actor Denzel Washington and actress-singer Pauletta Washington, John David Washington was born and raised in the Toluca Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles, California.
The 2019 Golden Globe nominee, who was nominated for his performance as Ron Stallworth in Spike Lee’s movie BlacKkKlansman, interestingly had his acting debut at age seven when he appeared as a student in Lee’s 1992 movie Malcolm X where his father appeared in the title role.
Asked what kind of advice his father gave him, Washington said in an HFPA press conference in 2021, “He told me in life and it applies everywhere, including in our artistry, to put art first, to always tell the truth in the performance. He told me, ‘Don’t try to wink at yourself and be over-critical but really to put art first.’ I really hold onto that. We have to allow ourselves to submit to the project, to submit to the character and that really helped.”
A former professional football player, Washington disclosed that his father never discouraged him to pursue an acting career.
He said in that same press conference, “No, he’s never been discouraging at all. He is a great supporter, a huge fan of mine and I’m lucky to have a father who showed me the way. I am very lucky.
“He showed me the way. I’ve been wanting to do it ever since I saw him do it. I saw Shakespeare in the Park when I was 5 years old and I saw his transformation from dad to that character so I’ve always been wanting to do it.
“Like the rant he said in Malcolm X, talking about identity – that was something I dealt with. I wanted my own identity so I can relate to what he was saying in a lot of ways and that’s why I chose football. I chose football because I knew people wouldn’t say I got certain things or I got my opportunities because of my father. There was no nepotism there at all.
“I was in a whole other industry so the concussions I suffered, the broken ribs, the sports hernias I had, the torn meniscus, torn Achilles I suffered was in the name of independence, in the spirit of having my own name and those lessons I learned, those pains, those failures.
“I thought a lot of failures in the NFL I had to carry with me to this industry because I’m finally who I really want to be. I’m strong enough to take rejection because of what happened.
“When you go to an audition you don’t get, I’m not as sensitive because I already knew what that felt like. If somebody doesn’t like what I do, if somebody doesn’t connect with the performance or tries to say I was only good because my father’s good or something crazy like that, it’s okay because I’ve also heard I had a great game because of my father, which makes no sense.
“So, I’m ready for it. I’m used to it. I’ve finally got to an emotional place where I’m ready to jump into it no matter what because I really want to do this.”
Washington, who appeared with Zendaya in the drama Malcolm & Marie (2021), said that he realized his father was a star when he was 5 years old.
He revealed, “When I was 5 years old, when I saw him on stage, he just felt like a star. He felt like a magician because he didn’t act like that in real life, and then I saw him on stage and he became this different person.
“The fame thing, I noticed that our life started to change after Malcolm X. We needed more security. There were some different things that were happening there so I noticed it there.
“I still get reminded how big of a star he is, how people love him. So it happens all the time. I get reminded all the time. So yeah, it was Malcolm X and I saw my life start to change because we had beefed up security and people would come up to him and just loved what he did in Malcolm X.
“I saw people in hats, coats and jackets with Malcolm X. It was like this huge movement and I was like, wow my dad’s in the middle of it. And we used to get these cool T-shirts. I just thought it was cool, my dad was on a T-shirt. I loved that.
“Then honestly, I remember the first time I went overseas, I went to Italy. We were in Amalfi and they knew him there. They knew him in Italy. I am like 8 years old, just learning about the world and experiencing margherita pizza for the first time and I loved it. These people who were serving up food didn’t speak English and yet they connected to this man. That was great. I found that out early on as well.”

Rashida Jones

The actress, writer, director and producer is the daughter of the legendary musician-record producer Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton.
Born in Los Angeles, California, the Harvard University alum appeared in films like The Social Network (2010), Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012) which she co-wrote, Tag (2018), and On the Rocks (2020). She also co-wrote the story of Toy Story (2019).
Jones, who won a Grammy Award for Best Music Film in 2019 for her documentary, Quincy, which was about her father, said in an HFPA press conference in 2020 that she has shared many memorable adventures with her father.
She said, “There are so many great adventures I’ve been on with my dad. He’s co-founder of this Jazz Festival in Switzerland, the Montreux Jazz Festival. He just really comes alive during that time. It’s just the best music and the best food and late-night hangs. Anytime I go with him to that festival, those are some of my best memories with my dad. He loves to travel. So anywhere I can meet him, I’m happy to go.”
Now 46 years old, Jones disclosed in the same press conference that she realized her father was a celebrity around when Thriller came out.
She recalled, “Before that, he was a producer, and a composer and people knew who he was. But then once he won all those Grammys and there was a picture of him winning all those Grammys, he became a famous person. That really changed the way people interacted with him, talked about him and knew his name. I went back to school on Monday and people were talking about it.”
Jones, who made her acting debut in The Last Don miniseries in 1997, recounted her reaction. She gushed, “I was so excited. Because think about it, it’s your parents and if you see your parents anywhere but your house, you are so proud and excited. We were watching from home. I was so excited and I remember when we made him a little card with a Grammy on it, a congratulations card. But I am sure that made him prouder than the Grammys – our little interpretive award.”
The girl who grew up in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles talked more about her charismatic father.
“It’s crazy because of all of his talents in the world, I would say it is his ability to talk to people, connect with people, be that gentleman, charming, and really be interested in other people’s lives.
“That’s almost the thing that makes him such a great producer, besides all of his musical talent – he sees stuff in other people, he connects with other people in a way where he can hear some sort of inner truth and really bring that out in their music.
“So it is his greatest skill in a way. I am not sure you can even learn from it or learn to be that way but I hope that I got some part of that genetically and I hope I picked that up from him over the course of watching him my whole life because it’s a beautiful, beautiful talent.”

Zoë Kravitz

The actress-singer-model was born in Venice, California in the home of her famous parents, musician rockstar Lenny Kravitz and actress Lisa Bonet.
Zoë Isabella Kravitz shared in an HFPA press conference in 2020 that at one point in her career, she wanted to change her name to Isabella. She explained, “I think I was concerned about people associating me with my family right away and not really giving me a chance to be my own person or be my own artist.
“It had nothing to do with not being proud of my family because I’m incredibly proud to be from the family that I’m from, but people like to assume things about you when they think that they know something about you. So, I think I just wanted a little bit of space to go into being my own artist.”
Kravitz, who portrayed Selina Kyle/Catwoman in Matt Reeves’ The Batman, said that her parents were both excited when they found out about her role in the movie.
She recalled, “They were both so excited, They both know that this role is iconic and it’s been done so well, something that we’ve all grown up with. That’s really what is so amazing about the world of Batman. All of us have grown up with some version of this world since we were little kids so when something enters your psyche so early in that world, these characters hold a really special place in everyone’s heart. Even if you’re not a comic-head, It’s something that’s just been in everyone’s consciousness for so long.”
Kravitz, who will star and produce the heist thriller The Sundance Kid Might Have Some Regrets, stressed that she is very close to her parents.
She exclaimed, “They’re my best friends in a lot of ways! They were both strict and they were strict in different ways. I’m really thankful for that.
“My mother was very concerned about preserving my innocence as a child, that was really important to her. She was famous from a very young age. She just wanted to protect our privacy, my privacy, and my innocence. So, she was really strict about the people I was around, the environments I was in, the food that I ate, and the things that I watched.
“She didn’t want me watching cartoons and everything the kids were watching because she didn’t think that it was appropriate for a kid to see violence, guns, and fighting. It was really important for her that I use my imagination and played in nature. I’m incredibly thankful for that and it’s a huge part of who I am as an artist now.
“And my father came from a very strict family, specifically his mother and his grandfather, my great grandfather. They were really strict. My grandfather came from the Bahamas and had no electricity and made a life for himself, and his wife. And then his daughter becomes an actress and has some money and success.
“So, when you have family members who come from very little, it becomes really important for their children to have respect and to understand where they come from. So, my father was raised like that and, even though we were very comfortable and lived in the public eye, it was important for him that I understood that fame really isn’t anything.
“It’s an illusion and it’s important to remember what’s important. Family is important, as being polite to anyone and everyone. Everyone is equally as important. Those are the things that he instilled in me from a very young age.”

O’Shea Jackson Jr.

Born in Los Angeles, California, and raised in the San Fernando Valley, O’Shea Jackson, Jr. is the son of rapper Ice Cube and Kimberly Woodruff.
He portrayed his father in his feature film debut, the 2015 biopic Straight Outta Compton.
In an HFPA press conference in 2019, he described his father and his relationship with him. He said, “Oh, my dad is my coach. He has given me the blueprint to be the man that I am. My mother and my dad are constant inspirations. They’re constant fuel to my fire. They believed in me before I knew how to believe in myself so that’s beyond friends. They are my backbone. They are my foundation and without your foundation, your house crumbles.”
Asked when he decided to join the entertainment field, Jackson revealed, “There was a point in my life where I just didn’t want to be the face. I didn’t want the spotlight. I wanted to be able to do the things that my dad couldn’t do.
“My dad didn’t get to always take me to the mall, or like just go to Six Flags because there are always eyes on you. There is always a crowd following you. So, the entertainment business is something that I’ve been thrown into and I’m making it work but it’s in my blood.
“It’s my family’s legacy so I’m definitely still trying to get a grasp of it. I couldn’t see myself doing anything else but just what was different for me is being in the front, being in the spotlight, having the cameras pointed at me.”
As for the best advice his dad gave him, he said it was, “Never do a movie that you wouldn’t go see yourself and to just never let other people make you uncomfortable, never let somebody make you act out of character, to always have actions that are true to you, and you should never be disappointed in anything that you do.”
A graduate of the University of Southern California where he studied screenwriting, Jackson recalled when he realized his dad was famous.
He said, “When I was a little kid, I knew my dad was different. Nobody else at school sees their dad on TV, so I knew something was up.
“I definitely was biased as far as music. I wouldn’t listen to anybody but my dad as far as rap went, like he’s just the greatest in the world. Nobody could tell me otherwise and still to this day, I’m quick to argue for my man and, I didn’t realize until maybe when I was 17, how impactful he was to everybody.
“I’ve always been on tour buses. I’ve always been on movie sets. I think that goes into my love for being on set. I used to be the kid who was just walking around asking people, ‘So, what do you do?’
“I have an appreciation for the PAs, the grips, catering, light, and sound people. I’ve been around this for so long that I make sure that I speak to those people when I’m on set. I make sure that I let them feel appreciated because I’ve seen this from both sides – just being a bystander and being in front of the lights.
“It was cool to be me when I was a kid. It definitely was fun and now that I’ve gotten to this age, I have a new appreciation of how hard my dad has been working because ever since I was born, he’s always been working and he’s still working. It puts me closer to him to be in this field while he’s still doing it too.
“It’s one thing to go in his footsteps when he’s gone but my man is still climbing a mountain that when you look up, somebody is still building the mountain. I am just appreciating everything he did for me as a kid and the lessons he teaches me as an adult.”