The renowned author, executive producer, and host shares how her two series bring healing to the Black community
The OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) series, “Family or Fiancé” shuns the sensationalized aspects of reality TV in favor of a more practical and holistic approach to healing the various dynamics that can cause dysfunction within a relationship. Author and host Tracy McMillan speaks with the L.A. Sentinel on the third season of her hit series, which airs on Saturdays at 9/8c. She also gets candid about executive producing the forthcoming Hulu/Onyx Collective comedy inspired by her life entitled, “Unprisoned,” starring Kerry Washington and Delroy Lindo.
LAS: “Family or Fiancé” edits 3-days into one hour-long episode. What are some things that the audience doesn’t get to see?
Tracy McMillan: I spend between 90-minutes-to-two-hours with the couples each day but the audience only sees about five minutes of that. I coach the couples and they take that information into the family system. We go into great detail about how they’re relating to each other and what type of belief system they have. I educate them about dynamics in relationships.
When I see something going on, I point it out and they get a lot from it. The difference between a secure couple and an insecure couple is that a secure couple has an “aha moment” and learns something and changes while insecure people keep doing the thing that isn’t working.
LAS: As a relationships expert, what advice would you share with ambitious, career-minded women regarding the societal pressure to be married?
TM: I don’t think it’s societal pressure. I think it’s a yearning for primary attachment. I feel like the stronger societal voice is, ‘You shouldn’t need a partner, you should be fine on your own.’ When I got into the science [of relationships], I learned that we’re wired for attachment.
I was recently on “The Today Show” and I said as much and my goodness! People in the comments section gave me a hard time because the [societal] message is that you’re supposed to be a rugged individualist and I’m like, no I don’t think that works, we need to be seeking primary attachment.
So what do you do with these [societal] pressures? Figure out what you want and take responsibility for the fact that if you want this thing, you have to treat your personal life with the same importance as we treat our careers. Capitalism just wants you to do the career, but you have to worry about your personal life because that’s where your true happiness is going to come from, whatever you’ve built.
LAS: Can you talk about the common thread between “Family or Fiancé” and “Unprisoned” in regards to how people who may not have had the best relationships with their parents can have healthy relationships with their partners?
TM: Both shows are essentially the same topic – they’re about generational trauma in the Black family. Everyone in the family has work to do around how they’ve carried the trauma. I think our show is more about mothers and sons than it is about fathers and daughters.
In the Black family, there’s an assumption that the mother/son relationship is in the first position over the son and his wife. And I’ve had to educate some people out of that because you can’t have your parent in the first position. How can your partner feel safe and secure if they know your number one is someone else? Your number one has to be your partner or it’s going to be unstable like a car with two different-sized wheels.
That’s been researched. And that’s the other thing I do on the show, I talk a lot about the science of relationships. Most people think relationships are made up as you go along, but when you start aligning your actions with the research, you start moving towards a better outcome and a more secure relationship.
LAS: Can you talk about the process of making “Unprisoned” and the vulnerability required to create a show about your life?
TM: It’s inspired by my life so it’s really about the feelings. I’ve been a TV writer for 15 years, much longer than I’ve been a host of a reality show. The thing that makes something TV [worthy] is that there’s an action that can be filmed otherwise it would be a book.
Actors have to be able to enact feelings you had in the past. It’s inspired by my life, it’s not a documentary or a re-enactment. Kerry Washington isn’t exactly playing me but there’s inspiration there.
The same with Delroy Lindo. He met my dad last summer before we had a green light for the show and he was very clear with me, “I’m not going to impersonate your dad, I’m going to create a character off of what I felt when I met your dad.”
He has to have that freedom, and so does Kerry. Kerry and I get along great. We joke that there’s a mashup of the two of us named “Terry McWashington” and the show is that entity, that energetic vessel that we both pour into.
What’s really important to me is that we’re going to show a story that’s never been told before about mass incarceration, a father and a daughter and a family. Even in the making of it, a lot of healing took place. I feel like America is ready for this.
It’s time to heal the hearts and minds around this particular issue. It’s a big responsibility and a privilege to be the person telling this story.