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Aunjanue Ellis Taylor: Origin And 4 Other Movie Performances That Deserved An Oscar

 Jo Brashear in Men of Honor, Una Vida in Of Mind and Music, Isabel Wilkerson in Origin.
Jo Brashear in Men of Honor, Una Vida in Of Mind and Music, Isabel Wilkerson in Origin.

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor may be new to some moviegoers, but she has worked in Hollywood for decades, delivering outstanding performances in her wake. Ellis-Taylor has enthralled viewers by showing her vast acting range in acclaimed films like Ray and If Beale Street Could Talk, to blockbusters like The Talking of Pelham 123 and cult classics like Undercover Brother.

Garnering acclaim and recognition often translate into an Academy Award or two for someone as respected as Ellis-Taylor. However, that isn’t the case for the Quantico alum, who scored one Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for King Richard. Of course, this isn’t new to the Origin star, who has been vocal about fighting for equal pay and respect for Black actresses in Hollywood. That doesn’t mean the Oscar nominee hasn’t delivered more Oscar-worthy performances. So, here are just some Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor roles worthy of an Academy Award.

Una Vida (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) in Of Mind and Music
Una Vida (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) in Of Mind and Music

Of Mind And Music (2014)

The star proved she’s an actor’s actor in the indie book-to-screen adaptation, Of Mind and Music. Ellis-Taylor served as Joaquim De Almeida’s dementia-stricken street musician patient, Una Vida.

Where other actors would’ve played Una with zero to little thought, Ellis-Taylor approached the role as a character study by taking on a serious subject with care and understanding. She illustrated the devastating illness and its effects on a patient's loved ones. The King Richard actress captured the struggles of dementia, mixing realism and artistry. Her skills birthed a nuanced performance, portraying the illness’s symptoms realistically.

The Oscar nominee played well against screen partners like De Almedia, Andre Royo, and Bill Cobbs throughout the film. Unfortunately, the movie adaptation wasn’t widely released, despite receiving critical acclaim and film festival recognition. This led the actress to miss scoring a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

The poignant indie drama is available through an Amazon Prime Video subscription.

Office Lulu Ledbetter (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) in The Caveman's Valentine
Office Lulu Ledbetter (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) in The Caveman's Valentine

The Caveman's Valentine (2001)

Long before films like King Richard and Origin garnered universal acclaim, Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor first got recognition for her supporting role in the 2001 Samuel L. Jackson-led drama, The Caveman’s Valentine. She played Romulus Ledbetter (Jackson)’s police officer daughter, Lulu Ledbetter.

While Ellis-Taylor’s role was small, it was pivotal in helping the story to move along with the daughter-father interactions. The The Help actress teamed with the Nick Fury actor to deliver a nuanced performance as the two characters aimed to heal their relationship and solve the mystery of the main storyline.

Along with Jackson, Ellis-Taylor exhibited amazing chemistry with her onscreen mother, Tamara Tunie. Healing and redemption served in connecting the characters. The thriller received mixed reviews while the actors won over critics. The acclaim didn’t translate into a Supporting Actress Oscar nom for the Hollywood star.

You can stream the 2001 crime thriller through Amazon Prime Video.

Jo Brashear (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) in Men of Honor
Jo Brashear (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) in Men of Honor

Men Of Honor (2000)

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor gained some recognition early in her career, but it wasn’t until the 2000 biopic, Men of Honor, that she captured Hollywood’s attention. She played Jo Brashear, the girlfriend (and later wife) of decorated Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear (Cuba Gooding Jr.).

As Jo, Ellis-Taylor was the catalyst and champion in the main protagonist’s story, despite only playing a supporting role. Her part relayed the struggles of an Armed Forces wife – the good, bad, and ugly of a romantic relationship. Like Carl, the film showed Jo’s metamorphosis from a young librarian to a supportive wife and mother.

The Book of Negroes actress had impeccable chemistry with onscreen love Gooding, illustrated best in the memorable "12 Steps" scene. She even held her space against Oscar winner Robert De Niro at pivotal points. Despite scoring critical love and an NAACP Image Award nom for her breakthrough role, the Academy did not recognize the actress with a Best Supporting Actress nomination.

If you want to watch the Navy-centric biopic, stream it with your Hulu subscription or on platforms like Amazon Prime Video.

Marie Davis (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) in The Express: The Ernie Davis Story
Marie Davis (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) in The Express: The Ernie Davis Story

The Express: The Ernie Davis Story (2008)

Playing the onscreen mom of rising stars has filled Ellis-Taylor’s filmography. It all began with the 2008 sports biopic, The Express: The Ernie Davis Story, as late Heisman winner Ernie “The Express” Davis (Rob Brown)’s mother, Marie Davis.

Like her prior work, Ellis-Taylor drew from her real-life counterpart while taking some liberties with her portrayal. She served as the backbone and catalyst for Davis’s powerful yet short football career. The Oscar nominee pushed for Davis’s growth and triumph against adversity in 1950s America. The actress created a true motherly bond with Brown.

The film received mixed reviews with praise for the cast’s performances. Unfortunately, Ellis-Taylor didn’t score a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.

Watch the riveting sports drama by getting a Hulu or Amazon Prime Video subscription.

Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) in Origin
Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor) in Origin

Origin (2023)

Aunjanue Ellis-Taylor found her niche in portraying real women as seen on her film resume. In 2023’s Origin, she became Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, academic, and author Isabel Wilkerson.

Ellis-Taylor took on Wilkerson’s life by drawing inspiration from the writer and her best-selling book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontent. Of course, basing the story on a source of facts and statistics allowed the Oscar nominee to take liberties in the best-selling author’s pursuit of history. She tapped into Wilkerson’s grief after suffering personal setbacks in researching her book, and carefully steered director Ava DuVernay’s experimental narrative as she played out Wilkerson’s life evolution, including its connected ending.

The The Color Purple actress shared outstanding chemistry with her onscreen husband, Jon Bernthal, especially during some emotional scenes. Like in most of her film work, she was a great screen partner with the cast. Fresh off its Venice Film Festival premiere, the movie and Ellis-Taylor garnered critical acclaim (including from CinemaBlend) and early Oscar buzz. Unfortunately, she only nabbed an NAACP Image Award nom but not a Best Actress Oscar nomination.

You can watch the acclaimed book-to-screen adaptation through Amazon Prime Video.

The above performances prove that Aunjanue Ellis Taylor has given enough Oscar-worthy roles for Academy recognition. Being overlooked by the Academy Awards hasn’t stopped the Get On Up actress from racking up film projects, though. The talent has multiple projects lined up, including SXSW darling, Exhibiting Forgiveness. Check out our 2024 movie schedule to see when the film arrives in theaters or on streaming. Other films are waiting for release, including The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat and The Nickel Boys. Maybe one of those films will finally see her receive a well-deserved Oscar.