Aunjanue Ellis
Aunjanue Ellis 2015.jpg
Ellis in 2015
Born (1969-02-21) February 21, 1969 (age 53)
EducationTougaloo College
Brown University (BA)
New York University (MFA)
OccupationActress, producer
Years active1995–present

Aunjanue L. Ellis (/ˈɑːnʒən/[1] born February 21, 1969)[2] is an American actress and producer. She began her acting career in theater, and made her film debut in Girls Town (1996). Ellis is best known for her roles in the films Men of Honor (2000), The Caveman's Valentine (2001), Undercover Brother (2002), Ray (2004), The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008), The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) and The Help (2011). In 2021, Ellis starred in the critically acclaimed film King Richard, which earned her nominations for the Academy Award, Golden Globe Award, British Academy Film Award, and Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Supporting Actress.

On television, Ellis had recurring roles in the ABC police drama series High Incident (1996–1997), The Practice (1999), True Blood (2008), and The Mentalist (2010–2013), and played roles in a number of television films, such as Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (2009), Abducted: The Carlina White Story (2013), and The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel (2020). In 2015, Ellis played the leading role in the miniseries The Book of Negroes, based on a bestselling novel by Lawrence Hill. She received critical acclaim and a Critic's Choice Television Award nomination for Best Actress in a Movie/Miniseries.

From 2015 to 2017, she starred as Miranda Shaw in the ABC thriller series Quantico, and in 2016, Ellis played Nancy Turner, Nat Turner's mother, in the period drama film The Birth of a Nation. In 2019, she received a nomination for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie for her performance in the Netflix miniseries When They See Us. Ellis later starred in the HBO drama series Lovecraft Country (2020), for which she was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award.

Early life

Ellis was born in San Francisco, California, and raised on her grandmother's farm in Magnolia, Mississippi.[3] She attended Tougaloo College before transferring to Brown University, where she completed her Bachelor of Arts in African-American studies. She also studied acting with Jim Barnhill and John Emigh. During her years at Brown University, Ellis made her debut in a student play. She went on to study acting in the Graduate Acting Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts.[4] She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.[5]



In 1995, Ellis made her professional acting debut appearing as Ariel opposite Patrick Stewart's Prospero in a Broadway revival of William Shakespeare's The Tempest.[6] She later made her screen debut in the episode of Fox police drama series New York Undercover. In 1996, she had the co-leading role in the independent film Girls Town alongside Lili Taylor.[7] During the late 1990s, Ellis also had supporting roles in films Ed's Next Move, Desert Blue, In Too Deep, and A Map of the World. From 1996 to 1997, Ellis starred as Officer Leslie Joyner in the ABC police drama series High Incident, created by Steven Spielberg. The series was canceled after two seasons. In 1999, she had the recurring role of Sharon Young on the ABC legal drama, The Practice.


In 2000, Ellis starred opposite Cuba Gooding Jr. in George Tillman, Jr.'s drama film Men of Honor. The following year, she played daughter of Samuel L. Jackson's character in the mystery-drama film The Caveman's Valentine, directed by Kasi Lemmons and based on George Dawes Green's 1994 novel of the same name. Also in 2001, Ellis had a supporting part in the critically acclaimed comedy-drama film Lovely & Amazing.[8] In 2002, she had main role alongside Eddie Griffin in the action comedy film Undercover Brother. In 2004, she played Mary Ann Fisher in the Academy Award-nominated biographical film about musician Ray Charles, Ray. In 2007, Ellis played the leading role in the thriller Cover.[9] The movie received negative reviews.[10] She also appeared in films Freedomland (2006), The Express (2008) and Notorious (2009). She also played Denzel Washington's wife in The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) directed by Tony Scott.

On television, in 2002 Ellis had regular role on the short-lived ABC medical drama MDs. From 2005 to 2006, she co-starred alongside Benjamin Bratt in another short-lived drama E-Ring on NBC.[11] She also had recurring roles on Third Watch, 100 Centre Street, Jonny Zero, Justice and True Blood. In 2009, she co-starred alongside Cuba Gooding Jr. and Kimberly Elise in the made-for-television film Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. Ellis also has appeared in a number of Broadway and Off-Broadway theatre productions. In January 2004, she performed in Regina Taylor's play Drowning Crow, at the Manhattan Theatre Club.[12] In the Spring, 2012 Hampton University semester, she taught entertainment industry courses. She was also featured in a Hampton Players and Company production, "Through the Crack."[13]

Ellis at event of The Book of Negroes in TIFF Bell Lightbox in 2015
Ellis at event of The Book of Negroes in TIFF Bell Lightbox in 2015


In 2010, Ellis co-starred opposite Wesley Snipes in the action film Game of Death. She played the leading role in the independent film The Tested based on the award-winning 2005 short film of the same name.[14] In 2011, she appeared in the critically acclaimed period drama The Help directed by Tate Taylor, as Eula Mae Davis, one of the maids, for which she received awards as a part of the ensemble cast. In 2014, she played Vicki Anderson in the biographical drama film Get on Up about the life of singer James Brown, also directed by Tate Taylor. As lead actress, Ellis starred in the independent films Money Matters (2011), The Volunteer (2013), Romeo and Juliet in Harlem (2014), and Una Vida: A Fable of Music and the Mind (2014).[15][16][17] She also played the leading role in the 2012 television film Abducted: The Carlina White Story.[18]

From 2010 to 2013, Ellis had a recurring role in the CBS series The Mentalist, as Madeleine Hightower. She also played Ashley Judd's best friend in the 2012 ABC miniseries Missing, and had another role on the CBS procedural, NCIS: Los Angeles. Ellis also starred as one of the lead characters in the 2013 AMC pilot The Divide. When WE tv picked up the show, Ellis left and was recast with Nia Long.[19][20]

In 2014, Ellis was cast as the lead in the international co-production epic miniseries The Book of Negroes, based on Lawrence Hill’s bestselling 2007 novel.[21][22] The Book of Negroes premiered in 2015, and Ellis received critical acclaim for her performance.[23][24] The Hollywood Reporter critic Whitney Matheson praised her performance. "Except for the first installment that focuses on Aminata’s girlhood, Ellis is present in nearly every scene, aging decades and displaying a stunning range of emotion."[25] Ellis received a Critics' Choice Television Award for Best Actress in a Movie or Miniseries nomination for her performance.[26] On February 25, 2015, it was announced that Ellis was cast in the ABC thriller series Quantico.[27][28] She left the series after two seasons in 2017.[29]

In 2016, Ellis co-starred in the historical drama film The Birth of a Nation, based on the story of the 1831 slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. The film also stars Nate Parker, Aja Naomi King, Armie Hammer and Gabrielle Union.[30][31] Ellis plays the role of Nancy Turner, Nat's mother, in the film.[32] Also in 2016, she was cast opposite Keke Palmer in the drama film Pimp about life of women on the streets of New York and work in the illegal sex trade.[33] In 2018, she appeared in If Beale Street Could Talk, a drama film written and directed by Barry Jenkins.[34]

In February 2018, Ellis was cast in a leading role on the CBS drama pilot Chiefs.[35] It was not picked up to series. Later, she was cast in the independent drama film Miss Virginia opposite Uzo Aduba and Vanessa Williams.[36] In 2019, she starred in the Ava DuVernay-directed miniseries When They See Us for Netflix.[37] She received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie nomination for her performance.[38]


In August 2020, Ellis co-stars in the HBO drama series Lovecraft Country based on the novel of the same name by Matt Ruff.[39] She also portrayed Mattie Moss Clark, the mother of The Clark Sisters, in the Lifetime television film The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel.[40] The film premiered on April 11, 2020, with positive reviews from critics and was the highest-rated original movie for Lifetime since 2016. Ellis was specifically praised by critics, fans, and the Clark Sisters for her performance.[41][42] She received NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special nomination for her performance.[43] Also in 2020, Ellis was cast opposite Will Smith in King Richard, a biopic about Richard Williams.[44] Her performance in the film received critical acclaim, earning the actress her first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture nominations. Ellis also received nominations at the Critics' Choice Movie Awards, Satellite Awards and Black Reel Awards, winning the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress.

In 2021, Ellis was cast opposite Courtney B. Vance in the AMC courtroom limited drama series 61st Street.[45]

In 2022, Ellis was cast alongside Andra Day, Glenn Close and Mo'Nique in an exorcism thriller film The Deliverance for Netflix, directed by Lee Daniels.[46] Later, she joined the cast of The Color Purple playing Fantasia Barrino' mother.[47][48] She also set to star in Justified: City Primeval, the limited series inspired by Elmore Leonard’s City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit.[49] She later was cast alongside Uzo Aduba and Sanaa Lathan in the adaptation of Tina Mabry’s The Supremes At Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat for Searchlight Pictures.[50]

Personal life

In her 2022 interview with Variety magazine, Ellis came out as bisexual.[51][52][53]



Not yet released Denotes works that have not yet been released
Year Title Role Notes
1996 Girls Town Nikki
Ed's Next Move Erica
1998 Side Streets Brenda Boyce
Desert Blue Agent Summers
1999 In Too Deep Denise
A Map of the World Dyshett
2000 John John in the Sky Earlene
Men of Honor Jo Brashear
The Opponent June
2001 The Caveman's Valentine Lulu
Lovely & Amazing Lorraine
2002 I Am Ali Herself Short
Undercover Brother Sistah Girl
2004 Brother to Brother Zora
Ray Mary Ann Fisher
2005 Perception Vera
2006 Freedomland Felicia
2007 Cover Valerie Mass
2008 The Express Marie Davis
2009 Notorious Sandy
I Love You Phillip Morris Reba
The Hungry Ghosts Nadia
Motherhood Sample Sale Friend
The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 Therese
2010 The Tested Darraylynn Warren
Game of Death Rachel
2011 The Resident Sydney
The Help Yule May Davis
Money Matters Pamela Matters
2013 The Volunteer Leigh
2014 Get on Up Vicki Anderson
Of Mind and Music Una Vida
2016 The Birth of a Nation Nancy Turner
2017 Romeo and Juliet in Harlem Lady Capulet
2018 If Beale Street Could Talk Mrs. Hunt
Pimp Gloria Ray
2019 Miss Virginia Lorraine Townsend
2020 The Subject Leslie Barnes
2021 King Richard Oracene "Brandy" Price
2022 Fannie Fannie Lou Hamer Short
2023 The Color Purple Not yet released Mama Post-production
2023 The Deliverance Filming
2023 The Supremes At Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat


Year Title Role Notes
1995 New York Undercover Claudia Episode: "Buster and Claudia"
1996–97 High Incident Off. Leslie Joyner Main cast
1999 The Practice Sharon Young Recurring cast (season 3), guest (season 4)
2000 Third Watch Gail Moore Episode: "Journey to the Himalayas" & "32 Bullets and a Broken Heart"
Disappearing Acts Pam TV movie
2001 100 Centre Street Amanda Davis Recurring cast (season 1)
2002 MDs Quinn Joyner Main cast
2004 The D.A. Ellen Baker Episode: "The People vs. Sergius Kovinsky"
2005 Jonny Zero Gloria Recurring cast
2005–06 E-Ring Jocelyn Pierce Main cast
2006–07 Justice Miranda Lee Recurring cast
2007 Law & Order: Criminal Intent Carmen Rivera Episode: "Flipped"
2008 Numb3rs Ivy Kirk Episode: "Power"
Racing for Time Officer Baker TV movie
The Border Amira Episode: "Family Values"
True Blood Diane Recurring cast (season 1)
The Prince of Motor City Cora Neel TV movie
2009 Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story Candy Carson TV movie
The Good Wife Linda Underwood Episode: "Crash"
2010–13 The Mentalist Madeleine Hightower Recurring cast (season 2-3), guest (season 6)
2012 Blue Bloods Sylvia Marshall Episode: "Reagan V. Reagan"
Missing Mary Dresden Recurring cast
Abducted: The Carlina White Story Ann Pettway TV movie
2012–17 NCIS: Los Angeles Michelle Hanna Recurring cast (season 4), guest (season 5-6 & 8)
2014 Sleepy Hollow Lori Mills Episode: "Mama"
2015 The Book of Negroes Aminata Diallo Main cast
2015–17 Quantico Miranda Shaw Main cast (season 1-2)
2018–19 Designated Survivor Vice President Ellenor Darby Recurring cast (season 2), guest (season 3)
2019 Chiefs Kendra TV movie
When They See Us Sharonne Salaam Main cast
2020 Law & Order: Special Victims Unit Laura Chase Episode: "Garland's Baptism by Fire"
The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel Mattie Moss Clark TV movie
Release Ida Episode: "Scorn"
Lovecraft Country Hippolyta Freeman Main cast
2022 61st Street Martha Roberts Main cast

Awards and nominations

Main article: List of awards and nominations received by Aunjanue Ellis


  1. ^ "Coffee Talk: Aunjanue Ellis". Essence. August 15, 2012. Archived from the original on 2021-12-21. Retrieved January 12, 2020.
  2. ^ "Ellis, Aunjanue 1969–". Cengage. Retrieved February 9, 2022.
  3. ^ Brenna, Susan (17 December 1995). "Up and Coming: Aunjanue Ellis and Carrie Preston;Two Young Performers Ride 'The Tempest'". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2014.
  4. ^ "NYU Graduate Acting Alumni". 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-01.
  5. ^ Robert Brauchle (January 13, 2012). "Delta Sigma Theta sorority sisters to meet this month". Daily Press. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
  6. ^ The Broadway League. "The Tempest | IBDB: The official source for Broadway Information". IBDB. Retrieved 2014-04-20.
  7. ^ "Movie Review - Girls Town - Getting Even and Then Some as the Best Revenge -". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  8. ^ "Lovely & Amazing". Rotten Tomatoes. 31 August 2001. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  9. ^ "Cover (2007) - Trailers, Reviews, Synopsis, Showtimes and Cast - AllMovie". AllMovie. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  10. ^ "Cover". Rotten Tomatoes. 1 October 2007. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  11. ^ "Aunjanue Ellis movies, photos, movie reviews, filmography, and biography". AllMovie. 1969-02-21. Retrieved 2014-04-20.
  12. ^ Ben Brantley (February 20, 2004). "THEATER REVIEW; Chekhov Shows He Can Rap". The New York Times. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
  13. ^ "'The Help' actress to teach courses at HU". WAVY-TV. January 17, 2012. Archived from the original on February 13, 2012. Retrieved March 24, 2012.
  14. ^ Vanessa Martinez (17 July 2012). "Russell Costanzo's 'The Tested' Starring Aunjanue Ellis On DVD July 24". Shadow and Act. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
  15. ^ Sergio (19 October 2011). "Ryan Richmond's "Money Matters" With Aunjanue Ellis Coming Out On DVD". Shadow and Act. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
  16. ^ Vanessa Martinez (11 September 2013). "UWFF 13 Preview: 'The Volunteer' at Soup Kitchen Has Affair w/ Homeless Man (Aunjanue Ellis)". Shadow and Act. Retrieved 3 December 2021.
  17. ^ "Film Review: Una Vida". Archived from the original on 6 April 2015. Retrieved 1 March 2015.
  18. ^ "Lifetime Greenlights Movie 'Abducted,' Starring Aunjanue Ellis, Keke Palmer, Sherri Shepherd". Shadow and Act. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
  19. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (10 May 2013). "WE TV Eyes Expansion Into Scripted Programming With Series Order To AMC's LaGravenese/Goldwyn Drama Pilot". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 2014-04-20.
  20. ^ "WE TV Announces First Scripted Program 'The Divide,' 3 More to Follow". Indiewire. 2012-10-26. Retrieved 2014-04-20.
  21. ^ "Louis Gossett Jr, Cuba Gooding Jr, Aunjanue Ellis & Lyriq Bent Set For 'Book Of Negroes' Miniseries". Deadline Hollywood. 4 February 2014. Retrieved 2014-04-20.
  22. ^ "Aunjanue Ellis, Louis Gossett Jr., Cuba Gooding Jr. Board 'The Book of Negroes' Adaptation". Shadow and Act. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
  23. ^ "The Book of Negroes". Metacritic. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  24. ^ "Bustle". Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  25. ^ Whitney Matheson (16 February 2015). "'The Book of Negroes': TV Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  26. ^ Erik Pedersen (6 May 2015). "Critics' Choice Television Awards Nominations 2015". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  27. ^ Lesley Goldberg (25 February 2015). "Aunjanue Ellis Nabs Female Lead in ABC's 'Quantico' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  28. ^ Nellie Andreeva (25 February 2015). "James Earl Joins 'Cooper Barrett's Guide'; Aunjanue Ellis In 'Quantico'". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 25 February 2015.
  29. ^ Ausiello, Michael (16 February 2018). "Quantico: Aunjanue Ellis Officially Out". Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  30. ^ Dave McNary (9 April 2015). "Aja Naomi King Joins Armie Hammer in Nat Turner Movie". Variety. Retrieved April 10, 2015.
  31. ^ Erik Pedersen (10 April 2015). "'The Birth Of A Nation' Adds To Cast; Ryan Gosling In Talks For 'The Haunted Mansion' - Deadline". Deadline Hollywood. Retrieved 10 April 2015.
  32. ^ "Nate Parker Recruits Aunjanue Ellis, Gabrielle Union And More For 'Birth Of a Nation'". 10 April 2015. Retrieved 11 April 2015.
  33. ^ Lincoln, Ross A. (22 June 2016). "Sophia Lillis Joins New Line's 'It' Remake; Aunjanue Ellis Sign On To Christine Crokos' 'Pimp'". Retrieved 23 June 2016.
  34. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (6 November 2017). "Finn Wittrock & Aunjanue Ellis Cast In 'If Beale Street Could Talk'". Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  35. ^ Andreeva, Nellie (16 February 2018). "'Chiefs': Aunjanue Ellis To Star In CBS Cop Drama Pilot". Retrieved 4 March 2018.
  36. ^ Busch, Anita (10 April 2018). "Aunjanue Ellis and Vanessa Williams Join 'Miss Virginia'; Christopher Egan, Hanna Griffiths Cast In 'Brookers'". Retrieved 10 April 2018.
  37. ^ Petski, Denise (3 August 2018). "Ava DuVernay's 'Central Park Five' Drama Adds Niecy Nash, Aunjanue Ellis, Kylie Bunbury, Marsha Stephanie Blake and Storm Reid To Cast". Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  38. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (July 16, 2019). "Ava DuVernay Thanks The Exonerated Five After 'When They See Us' Nabs 16 Emmy Noms".
  39. ^ "Lovecraft Country adds Courtney B. Vance, Elizabeth Debicki and Aunjanue Ellis". 21 June 2018. Retrieved 19 November 2018.
  40. ^ "'The Clark Sisters: First Ladies Of Gospel' Trailer: First Look At Biopic On Iconic And Influential Group". Shadow and Act.
  41. ^ Obenson, Tambay (April 13, 2020). "'The Clark Sisters: First Ladies of Gospel': Why the Lifetime Biopic Resonates With Black Women". IndieWire.
  42. ^ Ramos, Dino-Ray (April 13, 2020). "'The Clark Sisters: First Ladies Of Gospel' Biopic Marks Highest-Rated Lifetime Movie In Four Years".
  43. ^ "NAACP Image Awards: Black-ish and Lovecraft Country Top TV Nominations; Bridgerton Among First-Timers". 2 February 2021.
  44. ^ N'Duka, Amanda (January 10, 2020). "'King Richard' Finds Its Young Venus & Serena, Adds Aunjanue Ellis To Will Smith-Starring Warner Bros. Pic".
  45. ^ "Holt McCallany, Aunjanue Ellis & Killian Scott Join '61st Street' AMC Series". 17 February 2021.
  46. ^ Fleming, Mike Jr. (January 24, 2022). "Lee Daniels-Directed Exorcism Thriller With Andra Day, Octavia Spencer, Glenn Close, Rob Morgan, Caleb McLaughlin, Aunjanue Ellis Scares Up $65M+ Netflix Deal After Head-Spinning 7-Bidder Battle".
  47. ^ "The Color Purple Musical Movie Casts King Richard's Aunjanue Ellis". ScreenRant. April 7, 2022.
  48. ^ "Exclusive: Aunjanue Ellis Joins The Cast Of 'The Color Purple'".
  49. ^ Petski, Denise (May 5, 2022). "'Justified: City Primeval': Aunjanue Ellis, Boyd Holbrook, Adelaide Clemens, Vondie Curtis Hall Among 8 Cast In FX Limited Series".
  50. ^ Kroll, Justin (July 21, 2022). "Uzo Aduba, Aunjanue Ellis & Sanaa Lathan To Star In Searchlight's 'The Supremes At Earl's All-You-Can-Eat'".
  51. ^ Jackson, Angelique (June 1, 2022). "'King Richard' Star Aunjanue Ellis Speaks Her Truth About Being Bisexual: 'I Am Queer — This Is Who I Am' (EXCLUSIVE)".
  52. ^ "Aunjanue Ellis Confirmed Her Queerness, Today Is For Black Bisexual Oscar Nominees ONLY". June 1, 2022.
  53. ^ "Aunjanue Ellis, Star of 'King Richard,' Comes Out as Bi". 2022-06-01. Retrieved 2022-06-02.

Further reading