‘Mixed-ish’ Star Christina Anthony On Playing The Unapologetically Pro-Black Aunt Denise

Christina Anthony-Actor for mixedish

Christina Anthony is one of the stars of ABC’s mixed-ish, part of Kenya Barris’ black-ish universe. Anthony’s character, Denise, the boisterous sister of Alicia (Tika Sumpter), the mother of young Bow (Arica Himmel).

In full disclosure: Before I was able to publish Anthony’s interview, my father died unexpectedly, which led me to take a brief hiatus from work. In between that time, mixed-ish, unfortunately, got canceled. Regarding the cancelation, ABC president Craig Erwich said, according to TV Overmind, “I can say that just because we are not ordering new seasons does not take anything away from the impact that these shows had creatively or how many fans they have on ABC. These are difficult decisions but we are really proud of the runs that all of these shows had.”

Himmel and Sumpter have also posted their reactions to social media, thanking their fans for sticking with them through the mixed-ish journey.

“I want to thank our many loyal fans who joined us each week for the last two years on our journey from the commune to the ‘burbs–it has been an amazing experience and I will miss my TV family more than you can imagine,” wrote Himmel, according to Deadline. Sumpter wrote, “Thank you #MixedIsh fam! We love you so much, and always will. Onward and upward.”

Anthony also posted her own reaction to Twitter, writing, “Thanks to my family & friends for your love & patience while I saw this through & for covering me & pushing me when I was in unfamiliar water. Thank you God for this #plottwist. I will miss you, #AuntDeeDee! Thank you #mixedish family, cast & crew for your loyalty.”

I am sad mixed-ish is gone, since I enjoyed the series, probably the most of any of Barris’ series, if I’m speaking honestly. I will be sad to see young Bow and her family not on TV, but I am sure Anthony and the rest of the cast will go on to even bigger and better things.

With all of this said, here is Anthony’s interview with me from late April, before news of the cancelation was made public. Below, you’ll learn how she has approached her character and where she hoped her character would go in the future.


Monique Jones: Mixed-ish is in its second season. Um, how does it feel to have the series in a second season and, you know, have the devoted fan base that it does?

Christina Anthony: Well, it feels great. It always feels good to have a job, let’s be real. Um, but yeah, it feels wonderful. Um, wh… Our fan base has been just, uh, steadily growing. More and more people are discovering the show, and, um, it’s been great. It’s also great to know there’s so- there’s been such positive feedback of people saying that they finally see themselves, you know? There’s so many different characters on the show. It is a blended family with many faults, but also good points. So I’m glad our fan base sees themselves in it.

One thing that really stuck out to me, uh, when I first started watching, was that Mariah Carey does the theme song for the show. She said that she, like, as you were talking about what fans, that she saw herself in the show and she was moved by seeing a family that looked like her family on television. What is it like to have someone as big as Mariah Carey giving mixed-ish this type of support?

It’s humbling. She’s a super duper mega star and also, in a day and age now when we don’t have opening credits or theme songs that you actually sing and remember, it’s such a kind of ’80s thing, so it’s really nice that she is giving us that- that tribute. It’s really nice. Um, and also, if you have not heard the song, which I hope you have–as the kids say, [it’s] a real bop. It’s so good. And I think we did a music video for it, but I don’t know if anyone will ever see it, but, I think there is a music video for it on YouTube and we were in it. It was- it was pretty fun. Yeah, it’s amazing.

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Yeah, I’ve seen that. I thought it was really cool that Mariah Carey was giving y’all a theme song because she doesn’t do that for just anybody.

No, she does not. She does not.

So, I thought that was really cool. Your character, speaking of cool, your character, Denise, is like the cool aunt or like the aunt that says stuff that you think of saying, but you think, oh I can’t say that, but she says it. And, she started out being adamant about the “Black way of doing things” and she kind of represented one-half of the racial divide, I guess, between the in-laws. How do you think Denise has changed over the course of the two seasons?

Well, I think in some ways, she hasn’t, right? She hasn’t really grown that much. And I think it’s a good thing. She’s consistent with her wanting to make sure the children are proud of the black part of their identity and not ever [be] ashamed or denying it or ever feeling like it’s a burden. So I love that about her. That she’s very consistent and wants to make sure that they never feel ashamed.

With that said, she has, you know, she had some changes and I think now, in this second season, she’s realizing what- what her pro-Black stand, what that means for her in her own identity. You know, [with] Denise, it’s no secret she has her real hair texture under wigs. I think she’s thinking more about that–“Why do I do that,” you know? “Why don’t I just go to work with an afro?” I think she’s examining some things like that. I think she’s examining her own identity too. Like, what does it mean to be a career woman and not, you know, be married or have children. Again, this is the ’80s. It’s not as common as, you know, for women as it is now to be kind of pursuing a career.

I think she’s taking her own advice that she’s been givin’ the kids and kind of turning it on herself and what does it mean to be a strong black woman? What does it mean to be a proud Black woman? “What am- what am I [as Denise] doing with my life that I’m proud of?”

Christina Anthony with Tika Sumpter in mixed-ish (ABC)
Christina Anthony with Tika Sumpter in mixed-ish (ABC)

And it seems like her progression is also in line with what the late ’80s and early ’90s was about because, like, there was Spike Lee and his movies about race and identity and you have songs like “Fight The Power” and groups that are really talking about being proud of your blackness. And even other sitcoms of the time, like A Different World, which was really all about celebrating Blackness and what it means to be black and, you know, the different, like, multi-faceted, uh, sides of Blackness. And so, it seems like her character is, you know, growing in the mindset that seemed to be happening at the time.

For sure, yeah. And I think she’s also, you know, again, in coming into her own identity, I think she’s also experiencing as a career woman, what does this mean to keep being on these different jobs and I’m the only Black woman? And now, coming from working at the airport, now she’s at a job, she works with her sister, spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the second season. She gets a new job working for Alicia and now they’re the only two black women at their job and what does that mean? Like, why do we keep going into these corporate spaces of moving up in our careers, but seeing less and less of each other? I think that’s a major thing for her to share.

Right. I guess my next question is probably a two-pronged question. I’ll say the simple version of it first. With mixed-ish being what it is and with it talking about identity and I guess finding yourself and particularly finding yourself as a person between two races and two cultures, how do you think this show speaks to today’s times?

Well, I think reality is is that if you’re not a mixed race person, you are in close relationship with one basically. And I believe that interracial relationships and interracial marriages are, you know, here to stay. So, we need to start learning how to talk about difficult things and even when we’re in intimate relationships with one another, um, the hard topics have to be discussed. And I love that mixed-ish does it in a family setting. So, for better or worse, even when it’s a really hard conversation to bring up, we will work through it together.

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The other side of this, um… Well, first of all, since we are both Black, I’m not trying to trigger either one of us by talking about this, but it’s not lost on me, regarding what has been happening this week, that the man who has just been killed, Daunte Wright and others like him, are actually biracial, but they’re still discriminated against. And while mixed-ish isn’t explicitly about the tough side of living in America, it does touch on the themes that we’ve been talking about, such as discrimination, such as Black or- or darker skin people in general, being perceived as immediately different or unworthy or uneducated or do they belong here, et cetera. So seeing how there are people who are represented in this show that are mistreated by society, how do you think mixed-ish helps audiences help cope with this type of discrimination?

Well, um, I’m going back to season one. I think one, a television show that is fictional can never fully and adequately grasp the horror of what is happening actually in real life right now. But, I’m thinking back to an episode that we did about, that mixed-ish did about the police and the community’s relationship with the police, specifically the black community. We had discussions about scripts and I remember there was a discussion about, you know, this whole time, you know, we’re calling people biracial or mixed, but, yes, you are perceived as Black by the police if you have one Black parent. And, I think that was the point that the Black characters on the show wanted to drive home to the children as a means to protect them. And so I think, not so much as providing a solution of what to do, but more so of that we see and we acknowledge what is going on. And, you know, obviously, the answers don’t lie with the victim.

And so, in that sense, as a black actor on a television show, I am very much in mourning and upset about the things that are happening. On the other hand, I hope that when people watch the show who are not Black, they realize on every level, even, like, the small micro aggressions encounters with the police, how they are just a Black parent’s worse nightmare. A parent’s worse nightmare, if you’re parents have a Black child. It is difficult to think about, but it is a conversation that needs to be had, so mixed-ish had the conversation. Black-ish has had the conversation. And I hope that it is more and more eye-opening to more people. We have a problem and it needs to be addressed, but again, not by people who are being victimized.

Christina Anthony with (L-R) Mykal-Michelle Harris, Arica Himmel, and Ethan William Childress in mixed-ish (ABC)
Christina Anthony with (L-R) Mykal-Michelle Harris, Arica Himmel, and Ethan William Childress in mixed-ish (ABC)

With your time on the show, um, what have you learned from being on mixed-ish or what, um, what aspect or what storyline has stuck out with you the most as the storylines have progressed?

Well, I’ve learned that I don’t know how to jump double dutch. I did not learn successfully, but Mark-Paul Gosselaar [who plays Alicia’s husband Paul] did. He’s very good at it. I was stunned. And then, I think as far as storylines, I have definitely enjoyed the storyline where Denise gets the new job working at the law firm with her sister. I can totally relate to being the only Black person at, you know, in a work environment and then being so excited [at] work or school, when another black person actually showed up. And it’s like, “Are you working here now?” And you kinda introduce yourself or you wanna sit together at lunch. It’s just- just so glad to have somebody there where you can just kind of just know… Someone else knows what you’re going through. And even if it’s just a look of, “Girl, did they just say that? Did you just hear that?” It’s just, um, it was an episode I can really relate to, yeah.

Where do you see Denise headed if the show is able to make it to the ’90s?

Oh, yeah ’cause we’re in like ’86, ’87 now. I hope Denise goes further in her career. I think there’s a traditional path that she could take of trying to, like, get married and settle down. Um, but I think she might have stumbled onto something great, uh, and not known, you know, about this career in the law. And even though it seems daunting and it’s completely something she wasn’t ready for, I hope she pursues it.

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