Ellis was born in San Francisco, California, and raised on her grandmother's farm in McComb, Mississippi. She attended Tougaloo College before transferring to Brown University, where she completed her Bachelor of Arts in African-American studies. She also studied acting with Jim Barnhill and John Emigh. During her years in Brown University, Ellis made her debut in a student play. She went on to study acting in the Graduate Acting Program at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. In 1995, Ellis made her professional acting debut appearing as Ariel opposite Patrick Stewart's Prospero in a Broadway revival of William Shakespeare's The Tempest. She later made her screen debut in the episode of Fox police drama series, New York Undercover. In 1996 she had the co-leading role in the independent film, Girls Town alongside Lili Taylor. During the late 1990s, Ellis also had supporting roles in films Ed's Next Move, Desert Blue, In Too Deep, and A Map of the World. From 1996 to 1997, Ellis starred as Officer Leslie Joyner in the ABC police drama series, High Incident, created by Steven Spielberg. The series was canceled after two seasons. In 1999, she had the recurring role of Sharon Young on the ABC legal drama, The Practice.
In 2000, Ellis starred opposite Cuba Gooding Jr. in the drama film Men of Honor, directed by George Tillman, Jr.. The following year, she played daughter of Samuel L. Jackson's character in the mystery-drama film The Caveman's Valentine, directed by Kasi Lemmons and based on George Dawes Green's 1994 novel of the same name. Also in 2001, Ellis had a supporting part in the critically acclaimed comedy-drama film Lovely & Amazing. In 2002, she had main role alongside Eddie Griffin in the action comedy film Undercover Brother. In 2004, she played Mary Ann Fisher in the Academy Awards-nominated biographical film about musician Ray Charles, Ray. In 2007, Ellis played the leading role in the thriller Cover. The movie received negative reviews. She also appeared in films Freedomland (2006), The Express (2008) and Notorious (2009). She also played Denzel Washington's wife in The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009) directed by Tony Scott. On television, in 2002 Ellis had regular role on the short-lived ABC medical dramam MDs. From 2005 to 2006, she co-starred alongside Benjamin Bratt in another short lived drama,E-Ring on NBC. She also had recurring roles on Third Watch, 100 Centre Street, Jonny Zero, Justice and True Blood. In 2009, she co-starred alongside Cuba Gooding Jr. and Kimberly Elise in the made-for-television film Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story. Ellis also has appeared in a number of Broadway and Off-Broadway theatre productions. In January 2004, she performed in Regina Taylor's play Drowning Crow, at the Manhattan Theatre Club. In the Spring, 2012 Hampton University semester, she taught entertainment industry courses. She was also featured in a Hampton Players and Company production, "Through the Crack."
|"This Is War"||"The Kindred"||"Root of All Evil"||"Go Where I Send Thee..."||"The Weeping Lady"|
|"And the Abyss Gazes Back"||"Deliverance"||"Heartless"||"Mama"||"Magnum Opus"|
|"The Akeda"||"Paradise Lost"||"Pittura Infamante"||"Kali Yuga"||"Spellcaster"|
|"What Lies Beneath"||"Awakening"||"Tempus Fugit"|