Writing Black

Become “Unprisoned” With Tracy McMillan

Episode 29

Maiysha brings on relationship expert and acclaimed writer, producer and creator of Hulu’s new hit series “Unprisoned” which stars Kerry Washington and Delroy Lindo. Tracy and Mayisha discuss how “Unprisoned” is based on Tracy’s actual relationship with her father who was in prison for close to two decades. The two talk about what it takes to make it in Hollywood, relationships and what Tracy has planned for the future. 

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 02: Tracy McMillan attends the Los Angeles Premiere Of Hulu’s “UnPrisoned.” (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)


[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio Black Podcast Network. Black Culture Amplified. 

Maiysha Kai [00:00:09] Hello and welcome to another episode of Writing Black. I Am your host, Maiysha Kai, lifestyle editor of theGrio. And today we have with us a really spectacular guest who I’m personally excited about. You may know her from Family or Fiancé. You may know her from her many, many writing credits, which include Mad Men, United States of Tara. Any number of TV shows, you may know her from her viral op ed for HuffPost; Why You’re Not Married. But you should know her for her latest creation, which is Unprisoned, which recently debuted on Hulu. And it’s fantastic, starring Kerry Washington and Delroy Lindo. 

Unprisoned [00:00:48] Okay, so my dad is getting out of prison after 17 years, and today is the day. You ready to be unprisoned? Yes sir. Oh. Hallelujah. And I assume he’ll be living with you? Oh, no, that’s absolutely no. 

Maiysha Kai [00:01:11] That’s right. We have Tracy McMillan with us today. And thank you so much for joining us, Tracy, who is on vacation in Colorado. 

Tracy McMillan [00:01:18] Thank you. I’m happy to be here. 

Maiysha Kai [00:01:20] I am absolutely thrilled to have you here. And not just because we have the same hometown, which is Minneapolis, Minnesota. That’s right. That’s right. I am a minneapolis Black girl, which, you know, we’re our own special club. And I’ve had people say to me, they don’t know. I’ve had people say to me, they don’t know that there are Black people from Minneapolis. Oh, yeah, we’re there. We’re all over. And I love that you incorporate, you know, that this story of all the things you’ve shared with us over the years, I mean, you’ve written memoirs, you’ve written so, so much content around relationships and those incredible dynamics. This one is the one that, as I understand it, really gets to the heart of what made you you in terms of your own story. So tell me about how creating this particular series, which is so good, came to be. 

Tracy McMillan [00:02:19] Well, let’s see. I mean, this is a story, you know, [00:02:23]oftentimes when you are a screenwriter, there is one story, your passion project, one story that you came to tell maybe more than any other story. And that’s what this is for me. And it’s really the story of my own life. My dad was in prison most of my life. You know, I went into foster care at three and he was in and out. And then I went to at one point he came out and I went to live with him and his girlfriend. And then he went back in and I stayed with her. So, you know, his most recent sentence was 19 years. So in that time, I had a baby, you know, graduated from college, like started a career in New York and TV news, and then went to L.A. and wrote TV news some more. And then I got a screenwriting career. Like a lot of stuff happened. And all that time my dad had essentially been living inside my phone, you know, And we were close. We spoke often, but it wasn’t in real life. You know, and as he was as the clock was counting down on his prison sentence. I was like, Wow, we’re going to have to have an, you know, an IRL relationship. What is that going to be like? How am I going to do that? So for me, the way to work that out is to write about it. [74.3s]

Unprisoned [00:03:38] I think that you can stay with us for as long as you need. But obviously all of the same rules still apply. Right. You have to keep this job and. Don’t ask you for money. Don’t get any business and don’t put the knife back in the jelly after that. Addicted. Are you doing that? No. Is that something that you do? That was a joke. No. Do you want your own shelf in the. Are you contaminating my jelly? You’re disgusting. 

Tracy McMillan [00:04:07] And now I was writing. So I’ve been writing this story in different versions for since like 2007, since I first became a scripted television writer. I’m very glad that this is the version that went and all the other ones never got past the script stage, but they were all part of getting here, you know, because I don’t know, this is this is my story. I had it. You know, I always say to writers, you’ve got to go to where you are the least worked out. You know, the places where you haven’t worked it out. Because if you’ve already worked it out, it’s not a very interesting script. It’s not a very interesting story. It’s an interesting story. If it’s the thing you’re like most conflicted about, most in shame around most worried, you know, about like this was the part of my story that I didn’t want to tell anybody, you know? Wow. So part of the writing of this is to work it out for myself and also to help other people work it out for themselves. You know. 

Maiysha Kai [00:05:11] Where I mean, I think that’s been a through line in all of your work, at least that I’ve seen that I love about you as a persona. I don’t obviously know you as a person, but, you know, I think that that that that kind of like borderline therapist part. I mean, you are a relationship expert from your own experience. And in this narrative, you make your lead character. You know, this this version of you is an actual therapist played by Kerry Washington, which is actually a such a tremendous and vulnerable performance on her part in terms of how she’s, like, allowed to be messy. Right. I think we talk a lot about this. I talk a lot about this on this podcast, about our ability to let our heroes and heroines and particularly our heroines, I think especially Black women, this becomes a thing to let them be messy because we are messy, Right. You know, And I love that you did that. 

Tracy McMillan [00:06:10] Well, [00:06:10]I’m never I’m much less interested in perfection than I am in where the flaws are, because the perfection is what makes you human, flaws are what make you human. Like, I don’t I don’t need to see the Instagram feed version of you and your life. That is like, I get it. You curated it. It looks good, But I’m. I’m more like. I feel my humanity in places where other people show me theirs. So that’s as a writer, what I’m interested in. And it takes a it takes courage. But actually, once you realize, like this was part of my becoming unprisoned myself was writing into the places where I feared I couldn’t be accepted or loved or, you know, isn’t that what it’s all about? Being messy is like, if I show you the mess, you won’t even love me. You won’t think well of me. You will like me. Mm hmm. And what I’ve learned is that actually the connection that happens from showing people the flawed parts of you is so much stronger. You know, actually, the perfection showing perfection doesn’t create connection. It creates idolatry. [71.1s] You know, it creates like I. 

Maiysha Kai [00:07:25] Mean, preach on that. 

Tracy McMillan [00:07:26] That up on a pedestal. But pedestals aren’t good for people. You know. 

Maiysha Kai [00:07:31] So we are going to talk about that a little bit more. I want to talk about being this idea of being in prison, because that was a term I had not actually thought about a lot, which is surprising as a journalist that I hadn’t thought about this term of being unprisoned. 

Tracy McMillan [00:07:43] I made it up. Yeah. 

Maiysha Kai [00:07:45] Okay, good. I feel better because I was sitting there like I have never heard this, but it’s so appropriate. 

Tracy McMillan [00:07:48] No, I made it up. 

Maiysha Kai [00:07:52] I love it, but it is, you know, it ends up being both descriptive and also aspirational in this in this context of what can you set yourself free from, even if it’s your own perfectionism. And I think that that’s such a huge lesson that we don’t always get to partake in. And also this idea of, you know, writing something as a series instead of a completed thing. Obviously, you know, when people we interview a lot of authors here, you’ve written books before and this idea of a narrative being complete like this is the narrative arc. So when we come back in just a second, I want to talk to you about the difference, because you’ve written in so many different mediums at this point, which is such a rare treat for us to have here on this podcast, which talks about Black writers. I want to talk to you a little bit about the similarities and differences between kind of fleshing these stories out when we return with Tracy McMillan and more Writing Black. 

Maiysha Kai [00:08:47] All right. We are back with Writing Black and Tracy McMillan, who is here to talk about her latest creation, the Hulu docu series, it’s not a docu series,  excuse me, a dramedy actually is what I would call it, dramedy series Unprisoned, which stars Kerry Washington and Delroy Lindo, both giving amazing performances, as well as the young costar whose name is escaping me right now, who plays. 

Tracy McMillan [00:09:10] Jordyn McIntosh. 

Maiysha Kai [00:09:11] Thank you. You know, these portrayals are so, so great and so relatable because they are they’re hitting all the notes, right? They’re hitting everything that we want. We hit in our lives. You know, they hit the humor, the humor and the ridiculousness and the resentment and the pain, the regrets, the unresolved things. Right. You as you just noted, for for us, you know, you started in TV news, which, you know, is a obviously has a very similar place in my life. You know, and I’m also the daughter of a TV news writer and producer. So I get it. You transition that into a screenwriting career, which I think a lot of people would love to know how that happened. We have so many aspiring screenwriters out there. And then, you know, obviously there’s a world of difference between you’ve also written books, you know, but this idea of like shifting between these these mediums and these genres, how has that function for you was as has been a steep learning curve? Was it just kind of something that you just do, you just jump in? How has that worked for you? 

Tracy McMillan [00:10:17] Well, I love the challenge of working in a new medium or a new format. Mm hmm. But I started in television news, which is like the world’s greatest writing background. And because, you know. 

Maiysha Kai [00:10:29] I agree with you. 

Tracy McMillan [00:10:31] You just you learn to do it because it needs to get done, not because you were inspired or three because it’s. 

Maiysha Kai [00:10:39] The job. Yeah. 

Tracy McMillan [00:10:40] Yeah. It’s like, you know what? It I remember reading one of my textbooks in journalism. I because I have a degree in broadcast journalism, he said, Don’t get it right, get it written. Like, in other words, you can go back and make it perfect later, but right now you just need to get it down because whatever it’s going on the air and like 4 minutes or whatever, so I think don’t get it right, get it written is a mantra for me. It is about getting it down. You can you just need that first draft of anything. So that was one thing. And then that allowed me to kind of try out other other ways of writing. So when I first wrote. So I always wanted to write television, but I didn’t know anybody. I didn’t really know how it was done. I wasn’t living in the right place. I remember being eight years old and going, I have an idea for a TV show. I wonder if I wrote a letter to ABC if they would get it. And then I was like, No, they wouldn’t get it. You know, they’re not going to get it, it’ll just go to some slush pile of mail somewhere. So but it’s interesting to me to know. 

Maiysha Kai [00:11:51] To know that at eight is a big thing. 

Tracy McMillan [00:11:53] Yeah, well, exactly. Well, I was very realistic because I’ve been through so much realism life. I kind of knew the difference between what was what I thought was possible or, you know, I had a clear idea of the world, even at a pretty young age. So but I think it’s interesting that I had the thought then I was like and I look back on that many, many decades later and went, Wow, I always knew what I wanted to do. I didn’t know that I knew what I wanted to do, but I did. Always knew. And I remember having another thought around screenwriting after I graduated from college, but I was like, How would I do that? But I’m going to move to L.A. and start like. Cold calling is studios that I had no idea how to go about it. And I thought that, you know, there’s a lot of gatekeepers in you. Yeah, writing scripted television. It’s a very you just need to get I mean, people say this, you have to get lucky, but. I’m not sure. I don’t know. I mean, that’s a hard thing. I knew one person and that one person said. Well, here’s how you do it. For a sitcom. You have a character and they have a problem and they try to solve it and they get up the tree and then they try to solve it again and they get further up the tree and then they try to solve it again and they fall out of the tree. And that’s your 30 minute sitcom. And I was like. So I took that and I went, This is in 2000. And I wrote two different spec scripts, one Dharma and Greg and one Drew Carey Show. And I showed them to her and she she’s like, first of all, wait, you didn’t even do one. You did two. I’m like, Yeah, because I come from TV news, but I freaked out. I can’t get out. 

Maiysha Kai [00:13:38] Yeah. 

Tracy McMillan [00:13:39] I will say I write more than probably. I write a lot. I write a lot. I write every day pretty much. I mean, I am. I could say so much about this, you guys. I don’t want to get too caught up in the details, but here’s what happened. She looked at those two scripts and she said, Everybody thinks they can do this, but you actually can. And I wasn’t ready. But then four years later, when I was going through a life crisis and I was trying to write my feelings, I wrote as a feature and that became my calling card. That feature got me. I gave it to her and she said, I’m much too busy. Because her career had kind of blown up. In the meantime, I’m way too busy. But I’ll give it to my agent if he likes, and I’ll call you. And if he doesn’t like it, he won’t. And so eight months later, he called me. And I wasn’t good at following up. I wasn’t. But whatever. Eight months later, he called me and that was the beginning. He’s like, This is really good, and you should come in and meet with me and. That’s that was 2006 and I didn’t get my first job until that was February of 26. I got my first job in June of 2007. So it was an incredibly long. Process. And in that time, as soon as I met with the agent, I started writing. I gave myself assignments. I’m going to write a sexy thriller, I’m going to write a half hour, I’m going to write an hour long like, you know, free form kind of Y.A. type of show. I’m going to do that, you know, And I just started cranking it out. One script is not going to get you a career. No, it can open a door. But what the door, like all an agent cares about is what can I sell? So they only have one script That’s that’s not going to do it. You need to be having stacks of scripts, you know. And I know that’s hard to imagine. For me, it was any way in the beginning, how am I going to do that? But I think when you align yourself with whatever is like the writer in you, I have had a pretty steady flow of ideas for 17 years. I’ve never run out yet. 

Maiysha Kai [00:15:46] I mean, you know, like, that’s for our for our listener. Excuse me. You know, I think that’s a bit of a masterclass on like how to get this done. I think so many people wonder and I love that you just gave us so much insight because also at the core of that is like patience. But we’re going to talk more about that and more about on prison when we return in a second with more Writing Black. We are back with Tracy McMillan and more Writing Black. We were just talking about it. Listen, Tracy just gave us a total download on her incredible trajectory. And granted, everybody’s trajectory is not going to be the same. But I love what you said about writing every day, having stacks of scripts. You know, I think some so often we’re so goal oriented. We’re so like looking at, you know, the the the goal post and the goal post is constantly moving, as we know that we don’t think about just doing the work for work sake or we think that doing the work for work sake is a waste of time. And please correct me if I’m wrong, but what I was hearing from you is that you were perfecting a craft even before you had a place to put it. 

Tracy McMillan [00:16:49] Oh, yeah. I mean, if you’re not doing it for free, like, I would do this for free. When you write like that, what it does is it makes you a writer. So now you’re not like you need to become a writer a bit. You’re. You’re being one. So even then, when I was. Taking meetings and moving through the world. It didn’t feel like I was lying to someone about this. It didn’t feel like I was like putting myself up or trying to do something. And I had a lot to talk about in terms of writing. I wasn’t like I didn’t just have like one product I’m trying to sell. I’m like talking about the process of writing in my meetings and the things that I want to write and the, you know, the the bigger ideas that I’m connected to, which is where my material is going to flow from. And you can see like it was all about relationships. This is like back in 2006, 2007, it was all about relationships, it was about families, it was about Black families and every single thing. It was about generational trauma and how that affects our relationships. And every single thing I’ve done is a piece of that, you know? 

Maiysha Kai [00:17:57] Yeah, I think that is that is fascinating to me, too. Like this idea of working across so many different mediums. But at the same time, your brand, you know, because people love to talk about their brands. Now, you were doing all this before we even knew what Black Twitter was because it didn’t exist yet. Right? But like, you know, and I’m a Gen Xer, so for me, I’m like, yes, that was a simpler time and place, you know? But I think that is fascinating to me, too. This sense of identity that is so strong within you as a writer that no matter what you’re writing, it’s still very true to you. You know, even if you’re not writing, if you’re appearing on family, if you on say, like it’s all very consistent with who you have shown us that you are and what you want to talk about. 

Tracy McMillan [00:18:41] I have purpose, and my purpose is helping people heal. And so, yeah, it’s like it’s and it’s all relational. So and then, I mean, I’ll just say it like this God tells me what to do and like, go to this TV show to write that essay, do that book, do that other book. And then the message is just come like even no, you know, no, I’m going to do whatever I’m going to do next. Hopefully we’re going to do season two of Unprisoned. 

Maiysha Kai [00:19:07] I hope so. I was going to ask. 

Tracy McMillan [00:19:09] Well, this is my passion project. So like, yeah, what would I do after this? But then if you keep your eyes and ears open, I had two people in 24 hours. This is just a few days ago. Tell me, you know, you have another book in you and then both of them, these are completely not anybody related to each other. They were like, yeah, pills like it should be essays. And then it feels like the essays should be things that you turn into your next show. And I was like, Boom, that’s it. So it’s like the message is calm. And I’m like, That’s it, you know? And suddenly now my mind is going, That’s an essay, That’s an essay. That’s an essay. Things that I just think about all the time that I want to talk about, you know, and things I’m trying to work out for myself. This is the key. What are you trying to work out for yourself? That’s where your material is, because we teach what we need to learn, you know? And if if you’re not in it in that way, it’s not interesting. 

Maiysha Kai [00:20:08] I love it, I love it, I love it. We are going to get into this a little bit further. We’ll be right back with more Writing Black. We are back with Tracie McMillan, who is listen, I’m getting I’m getting my own masterclass in writing right now, and I love it because I think that that’s what this is all about. If you love to write, you never want to stop learning about writing. And this is so fun for me. I want to talk about the inner child, right? There is an inner child character in Unprisoned who, first of all, is absolutely delightful and hilarious and so well cast. But also, you know, we all have one, right? And we’re all reckoning with this inner child, so to speak. However, you know, whether you’re into therapy or not, I’m sorry. Yeah. As my mother would say, you may not be ready to deal with that, but it’s going to deal with you. Tell me about this character and why she’s so important. 

Tracy McMillan [00:21:03] Well, [00:21:04]I’ve been in therapy my whole life, basically. And, you know, at a certain point, you you are introduced to the idea of the inner child. Now it’s now it’s just like in the culture, but. When then I started to really develop a relationship with my inner child. Like she became a real person to me, she was me. She was me, the part of me that had never been abused, had never been abandoned, had never who was my most authentic self. Who knew every piece of my consciousness and knew what was right for me and was trying to communicate with me. If I would only listen and stop once I started really interfacing with that part of me and imagining, for example, in a relationship since she’s on the date with me and I would look at her. Not really, but really. And go. What do we think about this? And she’d be like, No.  And in the olden days before, I was really in a good relationship with her, I’d be like, Shh. I’m trying to do some over here. You know, mean. And then I started to partner with her because it was basically taught to me that I needed her if I was going to fulfill my gift in the world because she’s holding it. She’s the essence of it. The truth for me. [86.1s] And so when it came time to do the show, I was like, Well, we got to deal with the inner child, but what if we actually personified the inner child? And then that that would be such a great moment for comedy if we actually dressed her exactly as Paige. The main character. 

Maiysha Kai [00:22:47] It’s hilarious. 

Tracy McMillan [00:22:48] It’s hilarious. And then we cast this amazing human being who is the evolved version of all of us and who is that person who is so evolved like wise, authentic, real self loving. I mean, Jordyn McIntosh is that. And and, you know, she teaches us all every day. Like she does not respect anything fake. You know what I mean? Like, she just is equal to everything and everyone. And that’s what it’s about when you can really come to that spot and live there and protect that part of you and operate make choices from that piece. Boom, A whole world of that. And that’s been my experience. 

Maiysha Kai [00:23:37] I love it. 

Tracy McMillan [00:23:38] So I wanted to put it in the show. 

Maiysha Kai [00:23:40] And, you know, I think you’re opening up worlds for people who are watching this show. We’re going to get into a little bit more in just a second. We’ll be back with more Writing Black. All right. Tracy McMillan is with us today on Writing Black and is amazing as I predicted she would be. I’m so excited. Listen, I have no problem fanning out on this podcast. It’s partly why I created it. But, you know, one of the reasons that I was so excited to talk to you today is that, you know, and you were just talking about, you know, this this idea of like authenticity and kind of like grabbing on to obviously the things that that make us hurt, the things that have wounded us, all these kind of things. I think there’s also obviously a very powerful message here to Black women. I think it’s so interesting that this is set in our joint hometown of Minneapolis, which I think as a Black woman in Minneapolis. You know, there are a lot of racial dynamics there to reckon with, not all of which are, you know, negative or racist or, you know, anything like that. It’s just we are we are our own breed there. It’s it’s not it’s not a it’s not a chocolate city, let’s put it that way. It’s a very specific experience to grow up there. I make up and leave it there and let you say the rest. 

Tracy McMillan [00:24:56] Where are you from? What part of town? 

Maiysha Kai [00:24:58] So I grew up mostly in north Minneapolis, and now my my parents are right outside the Twin Cities. But yeah, so I there were there were places I recognized here, you know, like, oh, I was just like oh, my gosh. Did we live there? When I was a kid? It looks just like it’s just down the block. Yeah. You know, I, I do think that, like, there was a what I loved about how you played with race in this particular production was so artful. 

Unprisoned [00:25:28] Dang. This is like a field trip, but interesting. You know, when I meet other Black kids, they don’t always know. Like, it’s just weird to go up and be all like, Hi, I too am Black. Oh, say like that, Fin. That sound kinda weird. I mean, it is facts, though, you know, I just feel like I have to prove that I’m Black. Let me tell you something. Defending your Blackness to other Black people, that’s one of the Blackest things you can do. 

Maiysha Kai [00:26:01] You know, from the Korean foster sister to the Lutheran, you know, like it was so very true to place. And we talk a lot about world building on the podcast. And I think that’s another level of authenticity that I would love to explore with you, because you took a place that a lot of people are not familiar with. You know, like some people think of Minnesota as a flyover state. For us, it’s home, you know, and you made it. You brought it alive in a very like for me, the racial dynamics were very authentic. Can we talk about that a little bit? Like how you how did you sell those choices even to people who didn’t get it? 

Tracy McMillan [00:26:39] I remember when well, I mean, they were, first of all, biographical. You know, I lived in a Lutheran family and I had a Korean foster sister. And we’re still very close. I’m still very close to my foster family because they were like, well, and I was like, well, I want to make the her sister a character in the show and I’m going to have this. Foster family be part of the show. And they were all like, Yes, yes, yes, yes. Because a great network executive and we have great executives. So I’m part of Onyx Collective, which is a premium Black content for Black creators. A vertical within Hulu. And Tara Duncan runs it and she’s a gifted network executive. I expect her to run the world, and she’s already running my world. 

Maiysha Kai [00:27:25] I love it. 

Tracy McMillan [00:27:26] And she also is president of Freeform at the same time. Mm hmm. She is a visionary and she just gets it. And so when I was saying these things, she was like, Oh, I love the specificity, you know, because there’s you couldn’t really make up that stuff that right wouldn’t go there, just wouldn’t occur to you, you know. So yeah, these the racial dynamics are you know what I lived, you know, being a young girl of color in a completely white world. I’m from the whitest part of Minneapolis, which is a incredibly white city. Yeah. 

Maiysha Kai [00:28:09] Yes. Yes, it is. 

Tracy McMillan [00:28:10] You know, and especially I’m. I’m older than you. It was even more white when I was little. Like, I remember the Minneapolis of my really young, like four or five, six, seven, eight. It was just it was Scandinavia, you know? Yeah. And so what was that like, navigating those dynamics? And a lot of it I’m figuring out now, you know, like, [00:28:37]I look back on how my experience with teachers, for example, and there was something about me that they were just like, Oh, you all know why this little pearl of gets under my skin the way she does? And I’m like. [13.2s]

Maiysha Kai [00:28:51] [00:28:51]Precocious. I was one of those kids, too. [1.5s]

Tracy McMillan [00:28:54] [00:28:54]Well, I wasn’t acculturated as a white girl, so I wasn’t doing white girl things that they were expecting me to do that what everybody, every other girl in the school is acting this way or behaving in this manner or making these assumptions. And I just didn’t even know any of those rules because it wasn’t. It really wasn’t. My reality, you know? So, like, I didn’t have a dad who came home from IBM every day, who taught me how to make a male teacher feel comfortable. I didn’t know any of that. You know, I’m coming broke. I’m like a wild animal. But also also kind of like free in this one way. You know, I’m not following the rules of Minneapolis a lot of the time. So these are dynamics that I’m looking at back at and, you know, really realizing how that was and why that was in retrospect. But of course, it was incredibly freeing because I didn’t have to. I really didn’t have to follow the rules in certain ways. [59.7s] They didn’t expect me to. And yeah, I mean, was I was not a straight-A student or anything like that, but. So there were advantages that were lost to me in that process. But there were also there were also advantages given to me. I think I got to be more kind of creative and think outside the box because nobody expected me to be in the box. They looked at me and said, Who’s this? You know, I don’t know what’s going on with you, you know, because I’m like the only brown face in the classroom. And then the other thing about it is that when you’re brown in Minneapolis, you’re even browner. Because if I had grown up. Yes, like my friends in Southern California, not even a thing. They’re not even a thing, Right. Oh, you’ve got all kind of company of different ethnic groups and people are used to it, you know? 

Maiysha Kai [00:30:44] But it’s true. Yeah. And even the colorist dynamics are different. I mean, I grew up on I grew up in north Minneapolis and the south side of Chicago. And let me tell you who I was on the south side of Chicago in relation to everybody else and who I was on the north side of Minneapolis. Totally different. 

Tracy McMillan [00:30:59] Yeah. Yeah. And yeah, you’re like super dark in the south side of Chicago. 

Maiysha Kai [00:31:03] Yeah, you’re you’re definitely. Yeah. You a Black person and that’s it. That’s. You’re totally othered one way and then you’re other the other way when you’re in a predominantly Black America. Yeah, it is. It is. It really is. And I think that’s what makes your story and this story so fascinating and why I’m so glad that it’s making it to so many people. We’re going to take one final break and then we’ll be back with Tracy McMillan and Writing Black. We are back with Writing Black. And our guest today, Tracy McMillan, who is amazing. I’m again, I love this again. It falls in line very much with who we know you to be as a public person, that you were giving so much valuable advice to writers who aspire to do the things that you have done and are doing. You’ve already talked a little bit about what’s next for you and including, I think, all of us who have engaged with unscripted in that interview excuse me, and prison. You know, like my mother, for instance, like accosted me yesterday when I saw her, I was like, have you watched in prison yet? It’s so fantastic. You know? So I, I think that, you know, you’re hitting people. You’re hitting a lot of people, a lot of different generations with this story. 

Unprisoned [00:32:11] But we do recommend parolees live with family to give them the best chance of staying out. Yeah, of course, that makes sense. But I. I only have two rules, and one of them is that he cannot live with me. The other is don’t ask for money. 

Maiysha Kai [00:32:25] I had to share that with you because I think it’s important she did that unprompted. She did not know I was interviewing you today. And I told her and she said, Oh my gosh. So there you go. You’ve got a fan. So we are hoping for a season two, and you’ve already said that you are already percolating on a book of essays. What other things do you aspire to do, though? I mean, you’ve done so much already in your career and you still got hopefully miles to go. So what else would you like to do? 

Tracy McMillan [00:32:52] [00:32:52]Well, one of the things I want to do is I want to be part of creating a conversation about healthy relationships. I feel like there’s somewhere in there. There’s got to be a food pyramid of healthy relationships. Like, you know, before we had the food and amid we didn’t really know what what, what a good diet was, you know, Now we know this many grains, vegetables, food, people. We know everybody knows it. Well, what if we had that for relationships? That’s something I want to do is because I feel like people just make it up as they go or they just do whatever their parents did. And that doesn’t that there’s actually a quite a bit of like. Actual science on what creates healthy, a healthy relationship and like a secure attachment. And I would like to put move some of that science into the front end. I know you said you watch family dancing and that’s something that I’m always. [54.4s]

Maiysha Kai [00:33:47] [00:33:47]Listen, we watch all of them. We watch Married at First Sight. We watch all of them. So I’m interested in this. Yeah. [4.0s]

Tracy McMillan [00:33:53] [00:33:53]I’m always saying to these couples, like their actual things. If you do them, your relationship will be better, period. And there are actual things. If you do them, you will probably head toward a divorce, period. It’s just science, like it’s it’s numbers. So these are the kinds of things that I want to put more and more into the culture. [18.4s] I also want to write like a good novel or maybe even a great one. That sounds like a fun thing to do, but that’s going to have to be when I’m not writing television because, yeah, it takes an incredible I’ve written one novel, It was okay, but I know I could do better. It takes an incredible amount of bandwidth to write a novel, and I don’t know, I think there’s other things I want to do in terms of television, you know? I mean, my dream, crazy dream would be like, I want to host a game show because I love games. 

Maiysha Kai [00:34:45] Listen, I would totally take you as the new host of The Dating Game. I think that I think. Or or what is it, a Newlyweds Game. You would be amazing. 

Tracy McMillan [00:34:55] Okay, let’s. 

Maiysha Kai [00:34:56] Oh, amazing. Let’s put it out into the universe. 

Tracy McMillan [00:35:00] We just did. 

Maiysha Kai [00:35:00] I love it. I love it. I love it. I also forgot to shout out one other point that you did this. This is, you know, listen how much you had to do with this or not. I don’t care. The fact that Terry. Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam did the soundtrack for Unprison set in Minneapolis. Just totally. That was that just was my Minnesotan heart was just all the way for that. Amazing soundtrack, y’all, it’s on Spotify. Go get it. Watch the show, get the soundtrack. I’ve done the whole thing. And lastly, you know, since you have been so gracious to to join us while you were on your vacation, of all things, who inspires you? Like, who do you read? Who do you watch? Who excites you? I guess, you know, living or not, not living anymore. In the world of words and across genres. 

Tracy McMillan [00:35:49] I’m a real nonfiction person, like I tend to. I want to learn. That’s my thing. So I read a lot of like textbooks, I read a lot of attachment textbooks. I mean, are some they’re not writers. They’re, you know, professors essentially are like scientists. So those would be people like Stan Tatkin and Dan Brown. Like these are not but these are not writer things. These are things about men. I guess this is what I would say is. As a writer. It’s not that you need a brand that’s such a word that’s been overused. It’s that you need a thing that you’re bringing, whether it’s to the writer’s room or the marketplace. It’s like, what is the thing that you can do that no one else can do? That’s where you need to become more, even more. And my thing that I bring into a writer’s room that I bring into the world is my knowledge of relationships. It’s not even my skill as a writer. I’m a good writer. But what am I writing about? That is, that’s what being a writer is. It’s being a person who knows a bunch of stuff and shares it and finds a way to artfully share. So I, I spend most of my reading and listening time on my spiritual stuff and my learning. And so that is what I would say more that that’s where I get my inspiration. That’s where my ideas are coming from, the things I’m learning. And then what I offer as a writer, as I think about those things. And I offer a point of view that no one else has developed because I don’t know. I don’t know. They got put in me and we all have something that’s put into us that we are here to give. 

Tracy McMillan [00:37:34] So to me, great writing is the quality of your ideas. Bottom line, it’s like, do you have any ideas? Are you telling me new things I haven’t heard? Are you telling me things I’ve heard and spinning them in a new way? You know, like an example from. And prison would be like. No, because I remember realizing, like, Oh, you lie to the person you care about, like, that. And then you hear that you’re like, yeah, if you, if you didn’t care about, then you wouldn’t be lying to them. Is that great? No. Is it true? Yes. So it’s like, I’m interested in you taking whatever it is that you think about the most. Your obsessive thing, the thing you’re trying to heal in yourself, and then having new ideas and then giving them to me. That’s why I want to read your book, read your screenplay, watch your show. You know? So my job as the writer is to develop all that stuff within myself so that my show is interesting and tells, you know, helps people see the world in a new way. 

Maiysha Kai [00:38:36] Well, you certainly have succeeded at that with Unprisoned and I would dare say your other works as well. So thank you so much, Tracy McMillan, for joining us today, for giving us so much insight and wisdom and for so much amazing food for thought, both on this podcast and in your work. Everybody go check out Unprisoned on Hulu. Excellent performances, excellent script, so, so relatable. And hopefully this will not be the last time we talked to Tracy McMillan here on Writing Black. All right. Well, that was an amazing conversation with Tracy McMillan. I personally learned a lot, and I hope that you did, too. This is the segment of Writing Black that I always love to call Mai Favorite book because it’s based on recommendations I have typically based on the guests that we entertain each week. And this week, you know, Tracy, bringing her own story to the screen made me think of another incredible life story that was brought to the screen recently, which was From Scratch by Tembi Locke. 

From Scratch [00:39:44] Where are you from? Texas. I came here to experience art. To try things I may never get to again in my life. Oh. Mi chiamo, Amy. Sei americana? Si. Allow me to cook for you at my restaurant. I express myself through food. I get that. 

Maiysha Kai [00:40:07] This started as a memoir of Tembi’s own love story with her husband. Who, her late husband, unfortunately. And we saw it brought to the screen at the end of last year with Zoe Saldana in the lead, and she developed that project with her sister, Attica Locke. So when we talk about, you know, a moving between platforms and genres and mediums, this is a classic example of something that started as a life experience and became a memoir, which, you know, is cathartic in its own way as a writer, and then made its way to the screen where it could, you know, bring this incredible love story and sense of catharsis and relate ability to millions of viewers potentially. So I highly recommend Unprisoned. I also recommend From Scratch. These are two stories written by Black women that I think really tap into humanity and the power of love and to a certain extent, redemption. So I hope you enjoy them both and I hope we’ll see you next week for another episode of Writing Black. Thanks so much for joining us for this week’s episode of Writing Black. As always, you can find us on theGrio app or wherever you find your podcasts. 

[00:41:34] Yo, come look at what Michael Harriot just posted. 

[00:41:39] Black Twitter, come get yo, man. 

[00:41:41] This man’s got no chill and I love it. 

[00:41:44] It’s this podcast, a source for me. 

[00:41:46] I was today years old when I found out Michael Harriot had a podcast. Subscribed. 

Michael Harriot [00:41:53] I’m world famous wypipologist Michael Harriot and this is theGrio Daily. 

[00:41:58] He goes off too. On white supremacy, politics and the erasure of our history. 

Michael Harriot [00:42:06] South Carolina was a majority Black state. Just think about what would happen if all of those enslaved people rebelled at once. 

[00:42:14] No trolls. No cap. Just facts. 

[00:42:16] I don’t have any evidence that good cops exists. 

[00:42:20] Nah, we need the police. 

[00:42:22] I feel you. But let him cook. 

Michael Harriot [00:42:24] Every single police officer works for an institution that was founded in the beginning to oppress Black people. 

[00:42:32] How am I just learning this? 

[00:42:33] I’m telling you, this man knows his history. Like our real history, not the whitewashed stuff. 

Michael Harriot [00:42:39] Let’s talk about the other Thomas Jefferson that no one ever talks about, right? By any measure, he was a racist. 

Speaker 3 [00:42:45] Why weren’t we taught this? 

[00:42:47] We got to find the real tea for ourselves. 

Michael Harriot [00:42:50] Every Black child in America lives in a separate country than the white privilege children. 

[00:42:57] When Michael spits the truth, he helps us understand it. Plus, I could use it to shut down the Karens. 

Michael Harriot [00:43:01] You have to study white people because they are the ones who created all of these disparities. 

[00:43:07] He’s the real deal. And his podcast is wising us up. 

[00:43:11] That’s right. The Black Twitter king has a podcast like the man said, No trolls. No cap. Just facts. theGrio Daily with Michael Harriot every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on theGrio Black Podcast Network and accessible wherever you find your favorite podcasts. 

[00:43:32] Introducing Dear Culture with Panama Jackson on theGrio Black Podcast Network. Bring your friends for the shenanigans and stay for the Edutainment as Panama debates culture war. Janet Jackson versus Michael. Blackfessions, Blackmendations and everything Black. Listen today on thegrio mobile app for all the Black culture conversations you don’t want to miss. Also available wherever great podcasts are heard.