King Richard star Aunjanue Ellis is a proud bisexual woman.
The 53-year-old Oscar-nominated actress had long been out as bisexual to her friends and coworkers, but it was when she went to this year’s Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards that she first commented on her sexuality publicly. She did so by having the word “Queer” emblazoned on her Dolce & Gabanna suit jacket in rhinestones on her left arm.
However, despite the statement, not very many people caught onto her coming out.
“I was thinking, ‘Why didn’t more people pay attention to that?’ And I was like, ‘They probably thought it said ‘Queen,’” she told Variety. “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.”
According to Ellis, that family member already knew she was bi, but felt “hurt” that she would express her sexuality so publicly.
“I am a work in progress, and my family and my community are works in progress,” she said. “I really believe that that is important to say because I’m not alone. We see people on the other side of it, where everybody’s good and fine: ‘Love is love.’”
As a young girl growing up in the Bible Belt, Ellis realized she was queer when she was 8, and found herself trying to train herself to be attracted to boys.
“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 [my sexuality], 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 the interview, she also talked about how she’d often experience homophobia from peers who didn’t know she was queer, and it got to the point where she had to address it. “I was like, ‘Look, I love y’all. I appreciate my relationships and friendships, working and otherwise with all of you, but you need to know that I am bisexual,’” she said to them. “So when you say things, when you have felt your most intimate with me, that are queer-phobic, you are talking about me. And it hurts.’”
“There is an assumption made of me — a presumption made of me. Is it because I’m a Black woman from Mississippi? Is it because I’m older?” Ellis asked. “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.”
This news means that this year’s nominated actresses were even queerer than we thought. When Kristen Stewart was nominated for Best Actress for playing Princess Diana in Spencer and Ariana DeBose was nominated (and eventually won) for playing Anita in West Side Story, that was the first time two out queer women were nominated for acting Oscars in the same year.
Additionally, DeBose’s win was also historic. She became the first out queer woman of color to win an acting Oscar. Now that Ellis is also out, that makes three of the Actress nominees who are queer, and two of the Supporting Actress nominees who were queer Black women.