Angela Bassett exuded regal energy at the 14th annual Governors Awards, where she won an honorary Oscar. I watched in adulation as she delivered her acceptance speech. Marveling at her majesty, I studied her compelling mannerisms as if I were gearing up for a movie role myself. (Her charisma is that contagious.) It’s an honor that’s long overdue. We rooted for Bassett when she was up for Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars last year and felt the disappointment when her name wasn’t called that night. But all accolades aside, we’ve known and loved this sister’s work for decades, and it just keeps getting better — and better.
Forget the camera. Never mind the crew. Watching Bassett on the big screen — or any screen for that matter — is like being a fly on the wall in a real-life scenario. At 65, she’s as beautiful and brilliant as ever, currently starring in drama television series 9-1-1. We can also look forward to seeing her in the upcoming Netflix fantasy film Damsel, which is slated to be released in March. Throughout her decades-long career, Bassett has been adamant about doing meaningful work — not just for self-gratification, but for the sake of telling our stories — authentically. Her portrayal of Black historical women and cultural icons is second to none, but we’ve enjoyed her depiction of the everyday Black woman equally.
Let’s revisit one of many Bassett classics, 1995’s Waiting to Exhale. We’ll always cherish this work for showcasing the realities of Black womanhood, as well as the intricacies of our love lives in a candid but classy way. I talk a great deal about this concept of having a “zest for life,” and although Bernadine’s divorce took her to hell and back, she found solace through friendship. It represents what Black sisterhood is all about, inspiring us to forge a sisterly circle of our own or nurture the bonds we already have.
Similar themes of love and female friendships made their way into 1998's How Stella Got Her Groove Back. Thanks to Bassett's gift of embodiment, she became a beacon of Black female empowerment. For once, our joy, our pain, our experiences and our perspectives were front and center, and this resonated with sisters in an unprecedented way. As ESSENCE magazine pointed out, Bassett’s spot-on depictions are testaments to the profundity of Black womanhood.
Bassett’s “real life” has also been quite exemplary, as she’s enjoyed 26 years of marriage with her husband Courtney B. Vance while raising their 18-year-old twins Bronwyn Golden Vance and Slater Josiah Vance. But perhaps, the effortless strength she oozes on screen stems from the pain she’s endured in her own life. From being separated from (and later reunited with) her mother after her parents divorced to struggling to find work as a young Black actress to experiencing infertility on her journey to motherhood, Bassett has been open about her hardships, which makes her highly relatable.
I think back to her most iconic roles (e.g., What’s Love Got to Do with It, Boyz n the Hood, Malcolm X) — ones that made me smile, brought me to tears and even gave me chills. Since the beginning of her career, she’s poured every ounce of her spirit into the craft — simply for the love of the craft. “I have considered acting my calling and not just my career. I do this work because I find it meaningful, and I hope in some way that it makes a difference and has an impact,” Bassett said as she accepted her honorary Oscar.
Her commitment to ensuring diverse voices, stories and perspectives are reflected in media has translated into Bassett Vance Productions, a multimedia company she and her husband founded in 2020. Additionally, she’s always remained true to herself, favoring roles that elevate us. “It’s not always about the money … I’ve turned things down because the project’s not right, or the situation’s not right, or the story’s not right,” Bassett told ESSENCE in 2022. “Interest in our stories ebbs and flows over time, and not always are women like me, darkened by the sun, cast as the lead. So you have to look for other opportunities, where you can have a voice and make your mark and say something,” she added.
With pride, joy and gratitude, I say “Bravo” to Bassett. When the world needed to see, hear and understand more of us, she boldly took up the task — lending her powerful voice while giving us our own. No one will ever come close to this woman’s magic.
Bravo, Bassett. Bravo.