Aunjanue Ellis’ road to becoming one of this year’s ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood honorees is a beautiful one, to say the least. Born in San Francisco and raised on her grandmother’s farm in Mississippi, Ellis attended Tougaloo College – an HBCU – before transferring to the private Ivy League institution Brown University. It was there that she got her start in acting, appearing in a student play. She then enrolled in NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts to further hone her skills as a thespian.
Ellis has cultivated an acting career spanning nearly 30 years. Since 1995, she has appeared in countless films and television programs, and has been nominated for several awards – including an Oscar, Golden Globe, two Primetime Emmys, and three Screen Actors Guild Awards.
This year has been a phenomenal one for Ellis, beginning with her Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Oracene “Brandy” Price in King Richard, alongside Will Smith. Now, only three months into the calendar year, Ellis will be honored at the 2022 ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Awards.
Take a look at 8 of her past performances that took our breath away.
The 2022 ESSENCE Black Women in Hollywood Awards is sponsored by Coca-Cola, Ford, Disney’s Onyx Collective, SmartWater and Warner Brothers Television Group.
Jo Brashear – ‘Men of Honor’ (2000)
In what many consider her breakout role, Ellis played Carl Brashear’s wife, Jo, in 2000’s Men of Honor. Her performance as the sometimes soft spoken but firm love interest of the film’s protagonist, Ellis brought a special sense of emotion to the character.
Mary Ann Fisher – ‘Ray’ (2004)
Ellis had a fiery performance as the background singer – and eventual lover – of Ray Charles (played by Jamie Foxx). Her passion for Ray in the film jumped off the screen.
Ann Pettway – ‘Abducted: The Carlina White Story’ (2012)
The California-born actress played the infamous baby-snatcher Ann Pettway in Abducted: The Carlina White Story, alongside Keke Palmer. This real-life story on Lifetime helped to showcase Ellis’ range.
Aminata Diallo – ‘The Book of Negroes’ (2015)
This miniseries aired in 2015 and highlighted the evils of slavery in the 1700’s. Ellis’ portrayal of Aminata Diallo, a West African who was abducted and taken into captivity in South Carolina earned her several nominations during the 2015 – 2016 award season.
Sharonne Salaam – ‘When They See Us’ (2019)
Ava DuVernay’s emotional biopic When They See Us, told the story of The Exonerated 5 in the late 80s to modern day. Aunjanue was nominated for a Primetime Emmy for her portrayal of Sharonne Salaam, mother of Yusuf Salaam.
Dr. Mattie Moss Clark – ‘The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel’ (2020)
Lifetime’s The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel, focused on the beginnings of the Clark Sisters as a group. In the film, Ellis plays the siblings’ classically trained matriarch, Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. Her performance was met with acclaim from critics, fans, and the Clark family.
Hippolyta Freeman – ‘Lovecraft Country’ (2020)
In the HBO limited series Lovecraft Country, Ellis was masterful as Hippolyta Freeman, the brilliant aunt of Atticus who searches for a life with new meaning after the death of her husband.
Oracene “Brandy” Price – ‘King Richard’ (2021)
In what can be called her magnum opus, Ellis played Oracene “Brandy” Price, the mother and often-overlooked hero in the success story of tennis legends Venus and Serena Williams. This performance earned her an Academy Award nomination.