‘Sometimes They Were…Really Mean to Each Other’: Tracee Ellis Ross on the Toxicity of Joan and Toni’s Friendship on ‘Girlfriends’ 

Tracee Ellis Ross was just as confused as fans by the friendship dynamic of fictional pals Joan Clayton and Toni Childs-Garrett on “Girlfriends.”

Ross played the hopeless romantic and career-driven Joan throughout the show’s eight seasons. Actress Jill Marie Jones played her longtime friend and real estate professional Toni.

The show, which followed a group of four Black women and their token male friend as they navigated life, love, careers and friendship, was created by Mara Brock Akil. It debuted in September 2000.

Tracee Ellis Ross (left) and Jill Marie Jones (right) (Photos: @Photo: Traceeellisross/Instagram; Itsmejillmarie/Instagram)

Along with Ross and Jones, actresses Golden Brooks as Maya Denise Wilson, Persia White as Lynn Ann Searcy and Reggie Hayes as William Jerome Dent, rounded out the core cast members until the final episode in February 2008.

In a recent interview for NPR’s “It’s Been a Minute” podcast, Ross reflected on the turmoil that shaped the rollercoaster friendship between her and Jones’ characters. “Joan and Toni, sometimes they were like really mean to each other,” the “black-ish” co-lead told host Brittany Luse.

“Like, I just really did not understand that. It was something that actually — Jill, Gold, and Persia, and I — we constantly were like, ‘Who are these friends? Who does this to each other? Like, I’ve never heard of this,’” she continued.


“It was something back then that we pushed up against at times. Like, ‘That’s really mean,’ ” noted Ross of some of Joan and Toni’s storylines.

The toxic friendship often showed the women being envious of each other. And, at times, it brought out the worst in the chic lawyer, who had a knack for sabotaging her own and her friends’ relationships.


In the season-two premiere, titled, “The Fallout,” tensions between the two characters reached a breaking point. In the episode, Joan admitted the role she played in Toni’s breakup with her boyfriend, Greg. The betrayal led the real estate agent to slap her childhood friend across the face.

Ross said that she and the “Delilah” actress are both big on physical reactions, i.e., nudging a friend during a movie when something is funny. But their physical interactions on-screen left a lasting impression on the Pattern Beauty founder.

“Jill, she like hits you, but it got to the point, and — I kid you not I did not even notice this, I think Jill pointed it out — I flinch. It’s such a funny thing to look back and see,” noted the “High Note” star.

“There’s time towards the later seasons where, like, Toni comes at Joan and does something, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God,’ ‘cause she had a heavy hand, as Grandma used to say. Jill had a heavy hand,” she continued.

For the two women pitted against each other, things didn’t get out of hand though, there were plenty of moments they sparred with their words. And in the end, viewers never saw Joan and Toni’s fractured friendship be mended.

For over a decade, fans have petitioned for Akil and the “Girlfriends” cast to reunite for a film that provides closure for their characters. To date, plans for the project have not come to fruition.

However, fans of season six of “black-ish” did get to see Ross, Jones, White and Brooks reconnect on-screen.

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