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If we don't hear the story of someone who was enslaved, we deny their humanity; The Help actress Aunjanue Ellis tells KEELEY BOLGER why she stuck to her guns to make her new drama about a woman who was sold into slavery.

Who do you play in Someone Knows My Name? I PLAY Aminata. She's a rare woman because she's educated.

She's moved from West Africa to America where she is enslaved and becomes part of an immigration of folks from New York to Canada.

They go there with the promise of the 'land of opportunity' by the British. We see her journey in Nova Scotia and ultimately her part in the anti slave-trading movement in England.

She has great spirit and loves fearlessly and dangerously.

What did you like about her? SHE had all of this stuff inside of her and was able to smile anyway.

To blush at the touch of her husband... all these feelings. We believe people who were enslaved - who are enslaved because human trafficking still exists - are somehow robbed of their humanity... but it's actually the enslavers who've lost theirs.

Why was there an initial reluctance to make the series? WELL I think because African Americans are [inundated] by slave narratives. We hear it all the time.

stories make me to go to every day 'Why do we have to hear another story about slaves?' That feeling is justified to some degree, but from another standpoint, when we Aunjanue Ellis say we don't want to hear a story about someone who was enslaved, you are denying their humanity.

Why is the life of a 21st century African American woman more valuable to discuss and to share than the life of a woman who was enslaved? We can easily write them off and write about them without giving them any treatment in terms of who they loved, how they loved, what was going on in their brains and hearts.

like these happy work It's a stock reaction to stories We had to defiantly battle that with The Book Of Negroes as it's called in America. We had to battle that fatigue and the good thing is even with that fatigue and people resisting, people come up to me say how much they loved it.

What changed? WHEN people get that it's a love story, all that pushback sheds away.

Love a mother has for her child she's been separated from. Love she has for her husband.

We didn't deny Aminata any of those emotions, any of that longing or sexual jealousy.

All of these things happen between people who are in love no matter where they are, the time they're living in, no matter their circumstances. I think that's what floods the story and sets it apart.

Who do you play in Birth of a Nation, the upcominng biography of Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion? I PLAY Nancy, Nat Turner's mother.

I've been very lucky in the last couple of years that I've been able to be in Someone Knows My Name and in a much smaller way in Birth Of A Nation because I have a much smaller role in it. [They're] stories that make me happy to go to work every day.

Did anyone inspire you to go into acting? NOT at all. I wasn't one of those kids who when they were five years old, saw somebody like Diana Ross and said, 'I knew that was what I wanted to do'. It just wasn't like that for me.

There was a part of me that knew I was a performer in some way, but I didn't know where that would land.

Nothing was encouraged, being from where I'm from, although it's probably a little bit different now.

I did school plays, but no one would say to me, 'Girl, you need to go to the stage!' When I went to college I met someone who became that person, but I was 20. They said, 'This path you're on right now, you should divulge from'.

What path were you on? I DON'T know! Whatever it was, it was boring. It was like, 'What do I do that guarantees a job?' That was whatever path I was on at that time.

Do you see your roles as luck? NOT really because for me it's very intentioned. There are women who turned down Someone Knows My Name. They didn't want to play a woman who was enslaved so they wouldn't even audition for it.

For me, I was like, 'Can I please?' And then there was Birth Of A Nation. I gravitate [towards roles like that.] It's not luck for me because I fight to get jobs like that. It's the result of pushing and pushing and pushing, but part of it is actually, I feel lucky because these are roles I've really wanted.

| SOMEONE Knows My Name begins on Fox, tomorrow at 9pm.

Stories like these make me happy to go to work every day Aunjanue Ellis

CAPTION(S):

An educated woman, Amanita finds herself travelling from New York to Canada

Aunjanue Ellis as Amanita in Someone Knows My Name
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Birmingham Mail (England)
Date:Jul 16, 2016
Words:816
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