Aunjanue L. Ellis is an American film, stage, and television actress, and producer. Ellis began her acting career in theater, and made her film debut in "Girls Town." She later had leading roles in a number of independent movies, and co-starred in several mainstream films.
Born in San Francisco, California, Ellis was raised on her grandmother's farm in Mississippi. She attended Tougaloo College before transferring to Brown University, where she completed her Bachelor of Arts in African-American studies, while also studying acting with Jim Barnhill and John Emigh. She went on to study acting in the Graduate Acting Program at New York University. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
Ellis is best known for her roles in films "Men of Honor," "The Caveman's Valentine," "Undercover Brother," "Ray," "The Express: The Ernie Davis Story," "The Taking of Pelham 123," and "The Help." On television, Ellis had a regular role in the ABC police drama series "High Incident," and later co-starred in a number of short-lived dramas. She had recurring roles on "The Practice," "True Blood," and "The Mentalist," and played roles in a number of made for television movies, such as "Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story" and "Abducted: The Carlina White Story."
In 2015, Ellis played the leading role in the miniseries "The Book of Negroes," based on bestselling novel by Lawrence Hill. She received critical acclaim and a Critic's Choice Award nomination for Best Actress in a Movie/Miniseries. From 2015 to 2017, she starred as Miranda Shaw in the ABC thriller series "Quantico." In 2016, Ellis played Nancy Turner, Nat Turner's mother, in the period drama film "The Birth of a Nation." In 2019, Ellis received a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie nomination for her performance as Sheronne Salaam, mother of Yusef Salaam, in the Netflix miniseries "When They See Us."
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