A year after viral Essence speech, Aunjanue Ellis reminds Black women their work still matters

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Aunjanue [Aan juh noo] Ellis, an unapologetically Black actress who earned her first Oscar nomination for King Richard, accepted her 2022 Essence Black Women in Hollywood honor with a speech about “playing in the dark” that still resonates among the Black community a year later.  

Ahead of the July 18 premiere of her latest project, FX’s Justified: City Primeval, and before the SAG-AFTRA strike began, Ellis sat down with ABC Audio to break down the meaning behind her viral speech, emphasizing its message that Black women’s work matters just as much as anyone else’s.

“I made the analogy with dark matter and black matter — that it exists in the universe and that it upsets the universe. It orders the universe, but no one knows it,” she said. “And I think that for myself and I think for a lot of women of color, Black women particularly, that they do work that no one ever sees, but it’s still consequential. It still matters.”

A majority of her speech focused on her decadeslong journey of working without acknowledgement, which she suggested can be said for many Black women in entertainment. To ABC Audio, she detailed advice she’d give to others who may have also experienced “playing in the dark.”  

“First of all, keep playing, because that’s the most important thing,” she said. “I was not playing for a long time. I was miserable. So keep playing.”

But most importantly, she said, “Remember why you are doing what you’re doing and making sure that you are doing what you love.”

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