Aunjanue Ellis, who was Oscar-nominated for her role in King Richard, has come out as bisexual.
Ellis was already out to family, friends, and colleagues, she told Variety in an exclusive interview. “The way that I live my life, around the people that I live my life around, I am public about it,” she said. “I’m very clear about being bisexual. I have a sweatshirt that says ‘Girl Bi’ that I wear everywhere.”
But as to why no media outlet had reported on this aspect of her identity, the Lovecraft Country star said, “Nobody asked.”
She was surprised that no one asked when she attended the Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards in March in a suit jacket with “Queer” emblazoned in rhinestones on the left sleeve.
“I was thinking, Why didn’t more people pay attention to that? And I was like, they probably thought it said ‘Queen,’” she said in the Variety interview. “It wasn’t that I was expecting any sort of major reaction or anything like that. One of my family members noticed, but nobody else did.” That family member already knew she was bi.
Ellis, 53, was nominated for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Oracene “Brandy” Williams, wife of Richard Williams (Will Smith) and mother to future tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. In the course of interviews about the film, it didn’t seem appropriate to come out, she said.
“How do you work that into the conversation, in the middle of me talking about this movie?” she said. “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.”
Ellis, who is currently in a relationship with a man, said she had been aware of her bisexuality for years and that she had brought it up when colleagues made homophobic or biphobic comments. There seems to be an assumption that she must be straight, maybe because she’s “a Black woman from Mississippi,” she noted. “I don’t know what the mechanics are that goes into them not processing, or them not just being able to believe that in the same way I am Black, I am queer. This is who I am,” she said.
In her work, she is determined to portray the presence and significance of LGBTQ+ people in the Black community. That’s why she had “Queer” put on her jacket, and why the biopic she’s working on about civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer will showcase the LGBTQ+ people who were involved in the movement.
“This idea that we just decided to be gay two years ago or 15 years ago or 20 years ago is a lie,” she said. It is important to have more depictions of Black LGBTQ+ figures “because it is the truth of who we are,” she concluded. “It is not a blemish on who we are. It is. It is something that I am insisting on in what I bring into the world creatively.”