Aunjanue Ellis has been an actress for the last 25 years, but it wasn’t until 10 years ago that she thought to finally pursue it professionally.
The shapeshifter was last seen as the indomitable Dr. Mattie Moss Clark in Lifetime’s The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel. If Black Twitter had any say in the matter, Ellis would not only land her second Emmy nomination for her portrayal as the mother and choral director, but also snag it during September’s award show.
“I never wanted to be an actor,” she said during the Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast. “Where I was from, I didn’t have permission to imagine something like that.”
Growing up, the emphasis was on survival, which meant going to college, graduating and getting a good “practical job” so that her family wouldn’t have to be responsible for an adult. The NYU Tisch alum told host Scott Feinberg that you didn’t “have the luxury, the privilege of being an artist.”
When asked about how well The Help stands up to modern-day scrutiny in terms of race she said: “The problem with The Help was that it was written by a White woman and it was directed by a White man. It was the story of these Black women through their eyes.”
In the film, she plays maid Yule Mae Davis, starring opposite Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. Davis has since said she regrets taking the role because the maids’ voices weren’t truly heard.
While some say The Help is problematic because it was about Black maids, Ellis, a Mississippi native, disagrees. “I resent that. It was Black domestic workers who were the basic structure of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. They were the power source for the freedom moment in Mississippi…and one of them was Fannie Lou Hamer,” Ellis said unapologetically. “Domestic workers in the 1960s were heroes, let’s get that clear. The problem is who tells the story.”
Look for Ellis up next in Lovecraft Country on HBO in August.