“King Richard” highlights Aunjaune Ellis’s talent alongside a talented cast. PHOTO CREDIT: Shondaland
Dear Aunjanue Ellis,
With Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”) sweeping the Best Supporting Actress category and the clear frontrunner for Sunday’s Academy Awards, I want to take a moment to praise one of my favorite performances of the year – Aunjanue Ellis as Oracene “Brandy” Price in “King Richard.”
Rightfully so, much of the conversation surrounding “King Richard” has revolved around its star and producer, Will Smith, who will likely take home his first Oscar this weekend. However, when I finally got around to watching the film a few weeks ago, I was blown away by every single person in the cast, especially Ellis and I was glad to see that she earned Best Supporting Actress nominations at almost every major award show this season – I’m side-eying the Critics’ Choice and Screen Actors Guild Awards for their snubs.
I have to be honest in saying that I really wasn’t expecting much from “King Richard.” On the surface, it just seemed more like a cute, inspirational movie you see with your family than one the Academy would want to recognize. I was more than happy to be proven wrong.
It is cute and inspirational at times, but “King Richard” is so much more than that. Zach Baylin’s screenplay is brilliant (and also Oscar-nominated) and is full of moments that allow its actors to shine. In a season dominated by biopics (see also “Spencer,” “Being The Ricardos,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” “Tick, Tick … Boom,” etc.), accuracy and authenticity is the name of the game, and “King Richard” is a clear winner. Home footage plays throughout the credits and it’s fascinating to see just how much attention to detail was paid.
Prior to watching this film, I didn’t know much about the family’s story outside of Venus and Serena’s domination of women’s tennis. There was a great Nike commercial a few years back that featured home footage of Serena training with her dad, but I knew nothing about their mother. I walked away from “King Richard” wanting to know everything about her.
Ellis isn’t given too much to do within the film’s first act, but she’s always there in the family home with her five daughters as a strong maternal figure. However, things started to change when a neighbor called Child Protective Services on the family for “overworking” Venus and Serena.
Ellis shines in the following confrontation with the woman, which further showed just how much of a mama bear Brandy is. It’s a real turning point for her and it only gets better when Paul Cohen takes over as Venus’ coach, but can’t take on the younger, less-skilled Serena. Brandy becomes Serena’s primary coach, transforming her game so that when legendary coach Rick Macci comes along, both girls are prepared to make the move from Compton to Florida.
However, the moment that really solidified Ellis as having one of my favorite performances of the season came within the family’s kitchen at their nice, new, big Florida home. Ellis confronted Richard, who hasn’t always been the best husband or father, and made sure he, as well as the audience, knew that she is just as responsible for their daughters’ success as he is.
“I’m here,” Price told Richard. “I’ve been here, dreaming and believing just like you. You just don’t want to see me. I don’t need your ‘thank you.’ Unlike you, I don’t need the world to tell me I’m great.”
Just typing that out gives me chills as I can picture and hear Ellis’ portrayal of Price’s constant strong, yet calm ferocity. So while Brandy might not need it, and Ellis might not either, I am writing this all to say, Aunjanue Ellis, you are great. Your performance blew me away and while you might not be taking home the prize on Sunday, you’ve shown why you finally earned your first nomination almost 20 years after first achieving notoriety for “Ray” (2004). Nobody can doubt your greatness and your amazing contribution to “King Richard.”
Yet, if Smith does get that Oscar, Ellis will get her flowers. He has made it clear in his acceptance speeches thus far that his performance is nothing without hers.
As much as I enjoyed “King Richard,” I would happily sit through “Queen Brandy” starring Aunjanue Ellis.