On March 24, Oscar nominee Aunjanue Ellis She stepped onto the gold-toned carpet to accept her honor at the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards. The word “Queer” was emblazoned with rhinestones on the left arm of her hot red Dolce & Gabbana jacket.
But no one on the press line outside the Beverly Wilshire Hotel asked Ellis about it. And nobody in the room did that either. They might have been too focused on her speech accepting one of the afternoon honors, but”King RichardThe star has another theory.
“I was thinking, ‘Why aren’t more people paying attention to that?’ ‘ I was like, ‘Maybe they thought she said ‘queen,’ she said diverse Above the magnification, he bursts out laughing. “It wasn’t that I was expecting any kind of big reaction or anything like that. Someone in my family noticed, but no one noticed.”
This family member already knew Ellis was bisexual — the 53-year-old had been open about her sexuality to her friends, family in Mississippi, and people she had worked with for decades. However, they did tell Ellis that they were “hurt” by her choice to express her sexuality so proudly and in such a public place.
“I am a work in progress, and my family and community are in progress,” Ellis says. “I really think it’s important to say that because I’m not alone. We see the people on the other side of it, where everyone is kind and beautiful: ‘Love is love.'”
But the truth about Ellis, who was raised in a God-fearing family in the Bible Belt, was different. “If they came to New York and were around all my gay friends, they’d be like, ‘Oh, we’re cool. “But don’t bring him home. Don’t be open with her.”
Ellis has probably been rejected since she was eight and she realizes she’s a weirdo. She was really that Sunday School kid who questions misogyny in the Bible, wondering “Why should a woman be submissive to a man?” You remember. “Then there was something else about me that I didn’t understand either.” One summer when Ellis was a teenager, she remembers trying to train herself to be attracted to boys, trying to “convince my body of the right behaviour.”
“The isolation in that intense loneliness, the violence,” she says. “It’s violent because you literally have to put in so many parts of you to be agreeable, so people won’t run away from you and don’t want to be around you. It was exhausting. That’s what childhood was. That’s what adolescence was like. I knew [my sexuality], but there was no model for it; There was no example. There was no room for her, and certainly no forgiveness for her.”
It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that Ellis, who had been in an 11-year relationship with a man she met at church, fully admitted that she was bisexual. It happened while walking down the Sundance Lab grounds with another woman.
“We were just spending time talking and hanging out,” she recalls. “We walked by this stream—those streams in Utah where it snowed once, and then it became a beautiful, clear and clear stream—and there was a moment when the sun was hitting the water, and I was looking down at the water, and it was so clear, I could only hear the sound of This woman is behind me. I said, ‘This is how I’m supposed to feel. This is what I’ve been waiting to feel my whole life.’
However, she said she was aware that leaving the house would have personal consequences and repercussions. But she also knew she wasn’t hiding it.
“The way I live my life, around the people I live my life around, I feel cared about,” Ellis says. “I’m pretty straightforward about being bisexual. I have a ‘Girl Bi’ sweatshirt that I wear everywhere.”
As for why her sexuality didn’t come out in the media sooner, Ellis adds a chuckle, “Nobody asked her.”
Although last year’s award season generated some of the greatest Hollywood buzz that Ellis has received in the nearly 30-year career of her two-time Emmy-nominated career, sending her along an array of red carpets, cocktail parties, paintings, and interviews, her life The character was never really. came up.
“How do you incorporate that into the conversation, in the middle of my talk about this movie?” She explained. “I’m not that girl. My job was to talk about ‘King Richard’, the Williams family, these wonderful young women that I worked with, Will Smith’s amazing work on this movie. I wouldn’t be like, ‘And by the way, in case you haven’t heard yet…'” Because this is artificial.”
So, before the Essence Awards, Ellis asked costume designers Wayman and Micah to customize her suit jacket, just as they did with the Critics Choice Awards gown and would have done at the Academy Awards. (Both were embroidered with “Jack’s Baby,” a reference to her late mother, Jacqueline.)
“They were internalizing my desires to honor the people in my life, and that was one of the things I also wanted to honor — in this way, and among black women in particular,” she notes.
Ellis’ mission as an actor is to make black women proud. “I want to speak for and for them in the ways they feel proud, and where they feel I am doing and saying something that reflects their hopes, dreams, fears, and aspirations,” she says.
On the other side of that coin, it was black women entertainers who told her the most harmful things about weird, without any regard for her sexuality. For reasons Ellis can’t quite put her finger on, people fail to recognize that she’s part of the LGBTQ community.
“There’s an assumption in me — an assumption made of me. Is it because I’m a black Mississippi woman? Is it because I’m older?” she ponders. “I don’t know what mechanics they don’t get, or they just aren’t able to believe that I’m black the same way, I’m a weirdo. That’s what I am.”
Many colleagues have surprised Ellis with their anti-gay views.
One of the crimes arose when Ellis was working on a real-life character whose duality was revealed. “This person I was working with had a tremendous amount of anxiety about exploring that part of that character’s life,” she recalls. “I’m sitting here feeling like there’s something skewed about this woman because she’s bi, and we don’t want to talk about it, like there’s something wrong with her.”
Another classmate complained that she had to kiss another woman in a scene. “The way she talked about it, it was like she was disgusted with it,” Ellis shares. And I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’ “
Since these irregularities were happening so frequently—and from supposed progressive artists no less—Ellis decided she had had enough and addressed everyone via group text message.
“I was like, ‘Look, I love you all. I value my relationships and friendships, work and so on with all of you, but you have to know that I’m bisexual,” “So when you say things, when you feel more intimate with me, that’s homophobia, you’re talking about me. And it hurts.”
Ellis got some puzzling responses. “He doesn’t score with them until that happens, because it’s a very heterogeneous standard. We think we’re on the other side of things because of what we see in the media and on TV and we’re not.”
She adds, “I think that’s one of the reasons I wore this sweatshirt. It’s one of the things that made me put the word ‘Queer’ on my sleeve that day.”
Her current focus is on expanding queer representation through her work.
“There aren’t many accounts of gay black women,” she notes. “There are characters, but the whole experience of a black woman being gay or bisexual doesn’t exist, so we have to write them into being.”
Ellis is developing a project on voting and women’s rights activist Fannie Lou Hammer (after a 2022 short film in which Ellis portrayed a fellow Mississippi woman), deliberately highlighting the queer characters who were involved in Hammer’s activism.
“The idea that we just decided to be gay two years ago, or 15 years ago, or 20 years ago is a lie,” she declares. Ellis says she wants more films like Bayard Rustin’s upcoming biopic that stars Coleman Domingo, co-star in the upcoming musical remake of “The Color Purple,” as the civil rights leader.
“It’s imperative that we see more of that, because it’s the reality of who we are,” she says. “It’s not a flaw in who we are. It’s the wonderful scope of our humanity as black individuals in this country. It’s something I insist on, as I creatively bring it into the world.”