Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis Accept Outstanding Performer of the Year Award at SBIFF

Photo Credit: Getty/Santa Barbara International Film Festival


SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (March 6, 2022) – Day 5 of the 37th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival featured a tribute presented by Mantiou Fund to Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis, who received the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award, for their outstanding performances in this year’s “King Richard” from Warner Bros Pictures.

Smith and Ellis sat down with The Hollywood Reporter’s longtime awards columnist and host of its popular Awards Chatter podcast, Scott Feinberg for an in depth discussion about their cinematic careers.

Some of the highlights from the conversation included:

  • Will looked quite dapper on the red carpet dressed from head to toe in Dolce & Gabbana!
  • Will took us down memory lane from when he made history by being the first Grammy winner for Best Rap Performance: “It was a great coincidence that it was the first year that they actually had a rap category. I started rapping when I was twelve years old…I just loved it. I loved the words and being up in front of people. From the first time I heard “Rappers Delight” I knew I wanted to do that.” Watch HERE.
  • When a fight broke out in the audience of the theater, Will says “That’s why it’s important to have white audiences because that would’ve gone differently where you (Aunjanue) and I grew up. You want to act out how that would’ve gone if someone poured a drink on you?” Aunjanue jokingly proceeds to pretend to remove her earrings. Watch HERE. (7:42)
  • Aunjanue on playing Mrs. Hunt in If Beale Street Could Talk: “I loved that character so much because she was so unlikeable and hated by everyone in the room, and I loved it. It gave me so much joy, and I think leaning into that and not caring what anyone thought of me was so liberating and it was one of the most fun experiences I’ve ever had.” Watch HERE.
  • Aunjanue and Will’s reaction after watching their moving kitchen scene from King Richard: Will says, “Aunjaune just whispered in my ear, that’s the first time she’s ever seen that scene, she’s never watched it. That scene wrecks me.” Will jokes, “You should see some of your movies, they’re fantastic.” Aunjaune emotionally says, “I just feel that I am grateful to you, Will. That’s what I feel. That was fun to do, and the fact that director Reinaldo Marcus Green and Will Smith believed in me, I got to do that.” Watch HERE.

Following their conversation with Feinberg, King Richard director Reinaldo Marcus Green presented them with the Outstanding Performer of the Year Award. Reinaldo opened his remarks by saying: “It is absolutely my pleasure and honor to present tonight’s award for Outstanding Performers of the Year to the stars of King Richard, Will Smith and Aunjanue Ellis. Working with these two was like sitting in on a master class everyday. We’ve all seen Will knock it out of the park for years, so I expected greatness. But when he stepped into the role as Richard Williams, I was blown away. The way he embodied this man, this father, with a commitment, it was truly special to see. Aunjanue Ellis, wow. As my mentor Spike Lee would say, she’s da truth. She brought this quiet intensity and absolutely crushed every scene she was in. Working with both Will and Aunjanue was truly one of the joys of my early career.” Watch HERE. 


The Outstanding Performers of the Year Award recognizes select individuals who have distinguished themselves with exceptional performances in film this past year. Past recipients of the award include Sacha Baron Cohen, Adam Driver, Rami Malek, Margot Robbie and Allison Janney, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan, Steve Carell, Cate Blanchett, Jennifer Lawrence, Viola Davis, James Franco, Colin Firth, Penelope Cruz, Angelina Jolie, Helen Mirren, Heath Ledger, Kate Winslet and Charlize Theron.


Earlier in the day featured the newest panel at the festival, the Animation Panel. Attendees gathered for Charise Castro Smith – Co-Writer/Co-Director (ENCANTO), Charlotte De Le Gournerie – Producer (FLEE), Enrico Casarosa – Co-Writer/Director (LUCA) Mike Rianda – Co-Writer/Co-Director (THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES), Don Hall – Co-Director (RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON) in conversation, led by SBIFF Executive Director Roger Durling.


Some highlights from the conversation included:

  • Mike Rianda on the styles shown in The Mitchell’s vs The Machine: “There’s both an organic and realistic style shown, and it was important that we intertwined the two together to make the story unique and relatable.”
  • Don Hall on the themes of trust and mistrust in Raya and the Last Dragon: “Raya’s story is rooted in guilt, grief and her loss of trust in people from the betrayal she experienced in her early life. It was important to carry this through the use of the cinematography by opening up to a variety of shots which included wide lenses and longer lenses to help guide the audience through this narrative.”
  • Charlotte De La Gournerie on the subject matter in Flee: “It’s important that animation can go beyond just a story for children. It can achieve so much more in storytelling when the topic matter is as topical as the one told in this story.”
  • Charise Castro Smith on the importance of showing representation on screen in Encanto: Despite Encanto being considered by many to be a “children’s movie,” its effect and core message touches on universal themes. There is a greater impact on minority viewers, and marks a before and after in the way animated movies regard representation in their films.”
  • Enrico Casarosa on the visual inspiration for Luca: “It was important that the visual journey was captured through the various Italian influences and summers from the 50s and 60s.”