Academy award nominee Aunjanue Ellis is on a roll. Ellis, who has been delivering powerful performances since she first set foot on the big and small screen was one of the recipients of the 2022 Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards. Celebrating 15 years of excellence, the celebrated awards ceremony recognizes the extraordinary achievements of the Hollywood film and television industry’s most inspiring Black women who are helping diverse Black stories to be told.
Held during Women’s History Month, this year’s awards highlighted “The Black Cinematic Universe” and honored luminaries like Nia Long (actress/producer/director), Quinta Brunson (actress/comedian, creator), Chanté Adams (actres actress/producer/director Nia Long (You People), Oscar-nominated actress Aunjanue Ellis (King Richard), actress/comedian/creator Quinta Brunson (Abbott Elementary), actress Chanté Adams (A Journal For Jordan) and Ellis, whose performance as Oracene ‘Brandy’ Williams in the Academy Award winning film King Richard, executive produced by Venus and Serena Williams, finally showed mainstream Hollywood what Black Hollywood and Taylor Hackford already knew — Ellis is a powerhouse on and off the screen. Ellis has won a number of awards previously including a Gracie Award (Book of Negroes), African American Film Critics Association Award (When They See Us and King Richard), Canadian Screen Award (Book of Negroes) and National Board of Review (King Richard) and the 2022 Academy Award nominee added an Essence Black Women in Hollywood award to her portfolio.
Ellis was introduced by King Richard co-star Will Smith, who won the Best Actor award at the 2022 Academy Awards three days later.
Smith sang her praises and spoke about Ellis’ integrity on and off screen as he shared stories of triumph and comfort. Hollywood heavyweight Smith’s introduction of the thespian included the following:
“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.”
Wearing bright red and returning the “Oops” of her Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated sisters seated in the audience, the Mississippi-bred star, spoke of “Dark Matter” and doing the work whether or not people see you. She asked the audience to close their eyes so they can really see the dark and then asked them to open her eyes.
The cerebral actress offered many observations.
“So much in the dark – about darkness — is derided, it’s made horrific, we’re trained to fear it, we’re trained to think that it’s ugly. 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 it exists because without it the behavior of the stars, the planets and the galaxies would make no sense. Much of my 27-year professional life has been in the dark. Work that no one saw, work that no one wanted to see or should see or noble work that was not valued by white institutions and yet I did it anyway in the dark.”
Ellis went on to challenge dominant ideas about feminism and woman hood citing words by Maya Angelou and Alice Walker and speaking about the centrality of Black women in telling Black stories as she called her über agent Andrea Nelson Meigs onto the stage with her. Ellis stated:
“I work in a profession that was tasked to tell my history—Black American history,” she said. “It looks to other cultures to do the telling; I tell stories that give Black women primacy. In other words, we are centered. We are not plot points—we are the plot. I have been told my stories are too dark. And that darkness means that it’s too Black; Hope does not look like a Black woman, but I know better. My hope comes from my mother and my sister and my grandmother.”
Watch Smith’s introduction and Ellis’ complete speech on Essence.com.
This article was written by Nsenga K. Burton, founder & editor-in-chief of the award-winning news site The Burton Wire. Follow Nsenga on Twitter @Ntellectual.