Last year, esteemed actress Aunjanue Ellis made waves in Hollywood with her role in the critically acclaimed film "King Richard,” a biopic about Venus and Serena Williams' father. Ellis played the tennis stars' mother, earning her first Golden Globe Award and Academy Award nominations, both for Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture. But portraying powerful female characters in stories that are based on real life is nothing new for the 53-year-old actress. Previously, she garnered a SAG nomination for her portrayal of Mary Ann Fisher in the biopic "Ray," as well as earning two NAACP Image Award nominations for her roles in "Men of Honour” and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story." The recipient of an MFA from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, Ellis began her acting career in theater, and later came to prominence as Miranda Shaw on ABC's "Quantico." Later, for her appearance in BET's epic series "The Book of Negroes," she not only received critical acclaim, but also a number of awards and nominations including the Television Critics' Choice Award nomination for Best Actress in a Movie.
After a brief stint at Tougaloo College, Ellis attended Brown University, where she studied African American culture and took part in student plays on campus. At Brown, her mentors were former theater professors Jim Barnhill and Lowry Marshall. In fact, Barnhill had seen Ellis act at Tougaloo College and persuaded her to transfer to Brown. Meanwhile, in a 2021 article for Brown Alumni Monthly, Ellis described the importance of Marshall's influence. “Professor Marshall, an actress herself, showed me how to ‘rock’ into characters—I was blown away by what she could do." In 1993, Ellis received a Bachelor of Arts in African American Arts.
Over the years, Ellis has remained deeply attached to her alma mater and frequently returns for public events. In 2015, she was seen back on campus for a special screening of "The Book of Negroes," which was then followed by a Q&A discussion that allowed members of the Brown community to gain keen insight into what it's like to be a famous Hollywood actress. Likewise, in 2017, she returned for two separate Brown events: the first was on how Brown alumni are finding success as actors on the screen and stage, while the second event was the "125 Years of Women at Brown Conference," which addressed how influential female Brown grads have been in the world of arts. "Brown was such a hub of creativity," said Ellis, looking back at her invaluable time as a student. "It really sparked the creative possibilities in my life.”