We use terms like game-changer and trailblazer a lot but let’s be honest: it doesn’t always apply. True trailblazers don’t wait for a convenient time to demand change, they just get up and do it. For Oscar-nominee Aunjanue Ellis, now is the time to stand in her truth and make some waves. In an interview with Variety, the King Richard star discusses being open in Hollywood about her bisexuality and her goal to advance projects with more Black queer representation.
While Ellis has had a long, successful career, her recent awards season run for King Richard is the most high-profile she’s ever been. But since no one asked about her personal life, her being bisexual never came up.
“How do you work that into the conversation, in the middle of me talking about this movie?” she explains. “I’m not that chick. My job was to talk about King Richard, the Williams family, these wonderful young women I worked with, Will Smith’s incredible work in that movie. I wasn’t going to be like, ‘And by the way, in case you ain’t heard yet…’ Because that’s artificial.”
The 61st Street actress has known she was queer since she was eight years old but didn’t fully acknowledge her sexuality until she was in her 30s. She’s from a religious family in Mississippi, so she spent a lot of time questioning herself and trying to change who she was. The Emmy-nominee even describes how she tried “to talk my body into correct behavior.”
“The solitude of that is so lonely, it’s violent,” she said. “It’s violent because you literally have to tuck and place so many parts of you to be acceptable, so people won’t run from you and don’t want to be around you. It was exhausting. That’s what childhood was like. That’s what adolescence was like. I knew, but there was no template for it; there was no example of it; there was no place for it, and certainly no forgiveness for it.”
In case you’re wondering why you should care if an actress is open about her sexuality, it’s easy: her story is not for you. Aunjanue’s story is for the person hiding a part of themselves who suddenly doesn’t feel alone because now they do have an example for who they can be.
“The way that I live my life, around the people that I live my life around, I am public about it,” Ellis said. “I’m very clear about being bisexual. I have a sweatshirt that says ‘Girl Bi’ that I wear everywhere.”
With the post-Oscars attention she’s currently receiving, the Lovecraft Country actress plans to highlight more queer representation.
“There aren’t a lot of novels about Black queer women,” she explains. “There are characters, but the full experience of a Black woman being gay or bisexual, it doesn’t exist, so we’ve got to write it into existence.”
After starring as Fannie Lou Hamer in a 2022 short film, the When They See Us star is now working on a project about the activist where “she’s intentionally spotlighting queer characters who were involved with Hamer’s activism.”
“It is imperative that we see more of that, because it is the truth of who we are,” she said. “It is not a blemish on who we are. It is the wonderful scope of our humanity as Black folks in this country. It is something that I am insisting on, in what I bring into the world creatively.”