Since “King Richard” impressed critics during the September film festival circuit, Will Smith has risen to the top of our Best Actor predictions, but he’s not the only person from the film to experience a bump. Don’t forget about his co-star Aunjanue Ellis, who has recently risen into our top five for Best Supporting Actress.
“King Richard” tells the story of Richard Williams, the father of eventual tennis greats Venus Williams and Serena Williams. Ellis plays Richard’s then-wife Brandy (they divorced in 2002), and that right there puts the actress in a familiar — but oft problematic — category of Oscar performance. “The long-suffering wife” has been an awards trope for literally generations, with past Oscar champs ranging from Beatrice Straight (“Network”) to Jennifer Connelly (“A Beautiful Mind”) to Viola Davis (“Fences”). They’re often rich characters that give strong emotional showcases to the women who play them, though they also illustrate how often women’s stories in film are made subordinate to men’s, especially in prestigious awards movies.
But critics have been praising how Ellis “gets to draw out her character as the pain of being sidelined from big decisions becomes too much.” Her “indomitable,” “firecracker performance” is “the movie’s secret weapon,” so the consensus seems to be that her role transcends the often thankless trope. And Ellis has certainly paid her dues enough to finally be recognized by the motion picture academy. She has appeared in the Oscar-winning films “Ray” (2004), “The Help” (2011), and “If Beale Street Could Talk” (2018), and she only recently received her first two Emmy nominations for her work on TV: “When They See Us” in 2019, “Lovecraft Country” in 2021. So perhaps we’re in the middle of the Ellissance.
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