Raven-Symoné Talks Black LGBT Characters, Makes “black-ish” Debut

Raven-Symoné as Rhonda Johnson on "black-ish." (Photo: Nicole Wilder/ABC)

Raven-Symoné immediately won America’s heart when she joined “The Cosby Show” in 1989.

Seriously, who could forget cutie patootie Olivia Kendall?

Unlike many child stars, Symoné’s done well for herself. She starred in other TV hits like “Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper” and “That’s So Raven,” and found success on the big screen with “The Cheetah Girls” and “Dr. Doolittle” films. She also surprised viewers when she guest starred on Fox’s hit “Empire” earlier this year.

Though Symoné’s escaped the clutches of drugs and poverty, she’s garnered attention in recent months for a series of ill-fated comments about race (“I’m not an African American”) and geography (“I am from every continent in Africa, except for one.”) made during interviews and while co-hosting ABC’s “The View.”

Yes, she set social media sites ablaze and it’s pretty certain they will have much to say when she makes her debut on ABC’s “black-ish” tonight.

Symoné will play Dre Johnson’s (Anthony Anderson) younger lesbian sister, Rhonda Johnson. Everyone knows she’s gay except their mother Ruby (Jenifer Lewis). Given Ruby always talks about being bathed in the blood of the Lamb, this should make for an entertaining episode.

I recently chatted with Symoné about her “black-ish” role, diversity on TV and black American shows incorporating LGBT storylines.

“black-ish” airs Wednesdays at 9:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

WATCH: Latest “black-ish” episode

What do you like best about playing Rhonda on “black-ish”?

RAVEN-SYMONÉ: What I like best is that it’s a funny character, it’s connecting with Anthony Anderson’s character very well. You see the family dynamic. I love the way Jenifer Lewis portrays the mother and Tracee Ellis Ross is really a big supporter of my decision. So I love the dynamics between everybody.

You are in a same-sex relationship, and you playing a lesbian on "black-ish" and have guest-starred on "Empire," where one of the main characters is gay. Why is it important to incorporate LGBT storylines into black shows?

SYMONÉ:  I think it’s very important because that topic was rarely talked about until now. And there’s so many LGBT community members within all cultures, and I think it’s important to portray them. Everybody deserves the right to look at the TV and see themselves.

Will we see you again on these shows? Do you plan to make appearances on any other shows?

SYMONÉ: In my mind I am, but you have to talk to the people that run the show.

Right now, I’m on “The View” for a couple of weeks. And, I’m still in college, so that’s definitely No. 1 on my list. As my career progresses, I will let you know.

WATCH:  Raven-Symoné and La La Anthony co-host “The View”

You've grown up in the entertainment business. What do you think about TV shows including more storylines around people of color?

SYMONÉ:  I think it’s wonderful that more culture are being incorporated onto national TV, whether it’s “Fresh Off the Boat” or “black-ish.” We live in a country where all cultures are supposed to be accepted, and TV is supposed to represent that. As we grow as a country, hopefully our TV [options] grows as well.

It seems that any television show starring black Americans that came after "The Cosby Show" gets compared to it. How does "black-ish" compare?

SYMONÉ: It puts black people in a wonderful light, plain and simple. Just as “The Cosby Show” did, it shows real topics in our community and it shows us in a great light. I have an issue with color. I don’t look at it as some people in a different generation might. I look at the writing and what we’re talking about all together. I think that show is very well integrated. There’s all kinds of cultures represented. So, it’s mostly to me how the writing is. Am I laughing? Is it touching on topics of this time period? And I think they’re doing a wonderful job. You can input any type of race in there and it will works because it is really good writing.

People have complained about some of the images of black Americans on TV and welcome shows like “black-ish.”

SYMONÉ: I think there is a very good variety of different types of black people that are living in our country, and now on TV, who have everything, obviously if you look. There might not be as many shows as we would like, but, we have to start creating our own networks. There are other cultures who have multiple networks on TV. We have “black-ish,” we have Being Mary Jane” and we also have Tyler Perry’s installment of shows. Let’s remember, we have “Empire,” so there are a lot of shows.

WATCH: “That’s So Raven” 

You recently shared on "The View" that you've worn a girdle since you were 14. Do you still feel pressure to be a particular body size as a Hollywood actress?

SYMONÉ: There is definitely a bar which we’re “supposed” to look like. But, I think there are so many actresses and actors that kind of just break that barrier down. Again, it’s about looking at the TV or movie, and seeing someone who looks like you for us to be comfortable with ourselves in America and the world. There are so many different body types and when you only pick one to showcase on a public stage, you create depression and you create new revenue for companies to make you feel like you need to lose weight or gain weight, or whatever.

When we spoke in 2011, you said that you had worn your natural hair texture for a number of years, but only privately, when you're not working. Do you still do that?

SYMONÉ:  I do sometimes. With the color that I have right now I keep it tied up as much as possible because it’s a very frail color. But, I love wearing natural hair, it keeps me healthy, it keeps me sane. But when I go on TV, a girl likes a little length.

People are used to watching you on TV, but what TV shows do you enjoy watching?

SYMONÉ: I watch “Orphan Black,” “Suits,”  and “Vikings.” I’m a Netflix-Amazon-Hulu person. I watch “black-ish,” “The Blacklist” and “House of Cards.”

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.