Elise made her big screen debut in the 1996 crime action film Set It Off (1996) directed by F. Gary Gray, in which she played one of four women who resort to robbing a bank for money. Jada Pinkett Smith, Queen Latifah and Vivica A. Fox co-stars in film which became a critical and box office success, grossing over $41 million. In 1997 she was cast in the Family Channel original television movie The Ditchdigger's Daughters, based on the Pulitzer-prize nominated and critically acclaimed 1995 memoir The Ditchdigger's Daughters: A Black Family's Astonishing Success Story, written by Yvonne S. Thornton and Jo Coudert. She received critical acclaim for her role in this film, and in 1997, she was recognized as Best Supporting Actress in a Movie or Miniseries at the 19th annual CableACE Awards. Her performance helped her land a role the next year in Beloved alongside Oprah Winfrey and Danny Glover, a horror-drama film based on Toni Morrison's 1987 novel of the same name, directed by Jonathan Demme. Despite being a box office bomb, Elise received praise for her performance, and well as Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Most Promising Actress and Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture. She also received her first NAACP Image Award nomination.