When The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel aired on Lifetime back in April, Black Twitter had predicted another Emmy nomination for Aunjanue Ellis. She transformed into the stern matriarch and uncompromising choral director Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. And she helped the movie network earn its highest-rated original movie in four years.
So when the 2020 Emmy nominations were announced last month, fans were left scratching their heads because Ellis’s performance was overlooked. Ellis, who was nominated for her role in When They See Us back in 2019, spoke to ESSENCE exclusively about being left out of the nominations.
“First of all before I say anything, let me send a huge congratulations to everybody who was nominated. Congratulations to them. I’m happy for them. I never want somebody else’s joy to be my unhappiness. That’s awful. I just want to be clear about that,” Ellis says during a Zoom call.
“I would be dishonest if I didn’t say that I didn’t want [to be nominated]. And the reason why I wanted it is because I wanted it for The Clark Sisters. I wanted to be able to give them the shine that they deserve,” the actress and activist shares while swatting away bugs in the Mississippi heat. “Because we can sing and dance, we make it look easy. Black women make it look easy and the rest of the world takes it for granted. When it’s done by other folks, we talk about the genius of someone, we talk about their work, we canonize them, we say these are the best of their generation. But we don’t talk about our work in those terms.”
Ellis says the Clark sisters are the “embodiment” of Black genius,” she says. “They don’t know who the Clark sisters are. They are Black famous. We know who they are better than anybody. We know they can sing better than anybody; we know their writing is better than anybody. They are as significant as their Bob Dylan, as their Bruce Springsteen.”
The NYU Tisch School of the Arts–trained artist made it clear that her feels aren’t a case of sour grapes. Ellis says, “If there is disappointment—and there is disappointment. I’m just going to be honest, and I think it’s right to be transparent about that. It’s because I wanted to honor them with that. And that not happening was disappointing to me because I could not give them that.”
Catch Ellis on August 16 in HBO’s Lovecraft Country.