Aunjanue Ellis had the audience rising out of their seats from her moving words at this year’s ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood Awards.
The Mississippi-bred actress was introduced by Academy Award-winning actor and her co-star in King Richard, Will Smith. He opened with a few lighthearted remarks about Ellis’ personality on set, before really digging deep into her unwavering character.
“If there is a central word that describes Aunjanue Ellis, it’s integrity,” Smith said. “She doesn’t care about money, she doesn’t care about ‘making our day’ on set, she cares about people. She cares about treating people right. She does not play injustice, she does not play unfairness, and she does not play brutality – verbal or otherwise. At the core of Aunjanue is a fierce, noble, integrity.”
“And what’s beautiful about being friends with Aunjanue, is that she demands it of you, in the most loving way,” he added.
In Aunjanue’s specially-crafted montage, some of her contemporaries and directors such as Lee Daniels, Michelle Hurd, Sidra Smith, Taylor Hackford and Barry Jenkins. spoke to her quiet personality, but her strong presence. By Daniels’ account, Ellis “embodies the truth of what Black women experience.”
After receiving her award to a standing ovation, Aunjanue – who is a proud member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated – told the audience to close their eyes, and then proceeded to tell them about the dark, and darkness.
“So much about darkness is derided, it’s made horrific, we’re trained to fear it, we’re trained to think that it’s ugly,” she stated. “It’s used as the basis for colorism, for racism. But there is this thing that’s called dark matter – and it makes up 80 percent of the entire universe. It’s called dark matter because people can’t see it, but people know that it exists”
She compared the dark to her work in the past that may have been unreceived and undervalued by white institutions, yet it fed, clothed, and kept roofs over the heads of the people that she loved. The dark also represented the beautiful skin of herself, and other Black people around the world. The dark was also the experience of people of color in the film industry.
“I work in a profession that when tasked to tell my history, Black American history; It looks to other culturists to do the telling,” Ellis emphatically shouted. “They hide behind words like universality, training and pedigree, ignoring the pedigree of Black Americans like Oscar Michaeux, Paul Robeson, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Lawrence Fishburne, Angela Bassett – that’s my pedigree.”
In closing her acceptance speech, the Brown University graduate acknowledged the genius of her fellow honorees, gave praise to her grandmother, mother and sister, and spoke about how special God was in her life.
“My God, she’s dark dark, she’s Black Black, she’s got microbeads, she’s a twist out and a bonnet on at night, she smells like Fashion Fair and Sand & Sable,” Ellis said to a raving audience. “Her womanist self, her lips be shining, her front teeth got a gap in between, she did what she did without the need for feminism – she had no need for it because it had not place for her. Women like Alice Walker who says ‘this is a second hand language, and I can name myself.’ My God has no need for a seat at the table, because she built the house; so what do we need for somebody’s measly chair?”
My God – she woman, she dark dark, she Black Black,” she added. “Thank you ESSENCE for seeing the darkness in me, and celebrating rightly as Toni Morrison would say: “with delight, and not derision.”