Hollywood Shuffle is a series that celebrates our cultural icons in film and television whose performances have resonated with generations of viewers. From the pioneering actors and actresses who’ve helped break barriers and pave the way for those to follow, to the most promising and decorated thespians of today, their dedication to their craft is respected and appreciated.
In an industry brimming with creatives aspiring to reach the apex of their craft, Angela Bassett has compiled a career worthy of striving for. Touting a resume that stretches back nearly four decades, the beloved performer has risen to heights reserved for a legend, a tag she’s proved worthy of time and time again.
Born on August 16, 1958 in New York City, Bassett was raised in St. Petersburg, Fla. Upon graduating high school, the future starlet attended Yale University where she cultivated her love for the stage. Earning a Master’s degree in Fine Arts, Bassett began her acting profession during the mid-’80s, and appeared in various theater productions, including Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984), Black Girl (1985), Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1986). From there, Bassett nabbed bit roles in television and film before moving to Los Angeles in 1988 in hopes of securing more work.
An uptick in opportunities came along with the change of scenery, as the budding thespian opened the subsequent decade on a tear. Appearing in a succession of high-profile films during the ’90s, Bassett’s popularity was soon outpaced only by her credibility. Roles in 1995’s Panther and Vampire in Brooklyn were not only culturally significant but commercially successful, expanding her base and leading to mainstream roles in releases like 1997’s Contact and 1999’s Music of the Heart.
Known for her stern, yet stunning countenance, and disarming charm, Bassett would close out the decade with numerous honors and accolades to her name, including a Golden Globe Award, an Academy Award nomination, and several NAACP Image Awards. Over the past two decades and counting, she has only added to her trophy case, winning a Screen Actors Guild Award, several Primetime Emmy Awards, BET Awards, and multiple wins at the Black Reel Awards.
And with the recent reprisal of her role as Ramonda in the Marvel film Black Panther: Wakanda Forever serving as a full-circle moment, the cinematic icon continues to maintain her relevance and reputation for excellence in Black Hollywood and beyond.
In this edition of Hollywood Shuffle, VIBE looks back on the 10 iconic roles that have defined Angela Bassett’s career.
Reva Devereaux In 'Boyz N The Hood'
Bassett put audiences on notice with her role as Reva Devereaux in the 1991 coming-of-age drama Boyz n the Hood, which became the burgeoning talent’s first breakthrough in becoming a household name. The mother of protagonist Tre Styles (played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) and co-parent to Tre’s father, Furious Styles (Laurence Fishburne), Reva’s nurturing, no-nonsense disposition allowed Bassett to steal multiple scenes in the film.
From displaying the motherly touch that later became a recurring trait in the characters played, to the feisty exchanges with Fishburne over glasses of wine, her screen time was not only sporadic but also proved to be essential to the film’s timelessness. Appearing alongside multiple castmates who went on to become icons in their own right, Bassett rose to the occasion with her performance in this John Singleton-directed masterpiece, marking her arrival as a face to watch.
Katherine Jackson In 'The Jacksons: An American Dream'
The year after turning heads in Boyz n the Hood, the New York native gave an early glimpse of her acting skills’ depth as the Jackson family matriarch in this historic TV miniseries. While Bassett had her moments in her previous role, she outright stole the show in this production, commanding the viewer’s attention and brandishing the vulnerability and tenderness of Katherine Jackson with nuance.
Appearing opposite Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, and alongside a star-studded lineup featuring Holly Robinson Peete, Billy Dee Williams, Vanessa Williams, Terrence Howard, Jason Weaver, Bumper Robinson, Monica Calhoun, and more, Bassett rose to the occasion with each delivered scene.
Betty Shabazz In 'Malcolm X'
In 1992, Bassett elevated her stature as one of the premier actresses in Black Hollywood after appearing in the Spike Lee-directed biopic based on the life of civil rights activist Malcolm X. Portraying Malcolm’s wife, Betty Shabazz, in the film, Bassett played opposite leading man Denzel Washington, with the pair’s creative chemistry onscreen being lauded by critics and viewers alike. Channeling Shabazz’s unbridled devotion to Malcolm while exuding the strength that allowed her to be the shoulder he leaned on in times of turmoil, Bassett’s stoic performance earned her rave reviews. Her role as the revered matriarch and activist was recognized by the NAACP. In the following year, Bassett received the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture trophy at the Image Awards.
Tina Turner In 'What's Love Got To Do With It'
One role in Bassett’s career that is widely regarded as her defining moment in cinema is her portrayal of music icon Tina Turner in the singer’s 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It. Reuniting with Laurence Fishburne, who played Tina’s abusive husband and groupmate, Bassett showed that her ability to characterize figures across various spectrums was no fluke and delivered a riveting, award-winning performance.
While Bassett and Fishburne both lost in the Best Actress and Best Actor categories at the 1994 Academy Awards, respectively, Bassett did take home the hardware for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical at the 1994 Golden Globe Awards. She also took home her second consecutive NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture, bookending a three-year run that saw Bassett go from promising newcomer to Oscar-nominated leading lady and bonafide star.
Bernadine Harris In 'Waiting To Exhale'
1995 marked a peak in Bassett’s trajectory as a Hollywood starlet, as she starred in a trifecta of high-profile films that year. The most memorable and acclaimed of the three releases was undoubtedly Waiting to Exhale, a romantic drama based on a novel by author Terry McMillan. The film documented the respective love lives and journeys of four female friends who lean on each other for emotional support. Cast as Bernadine Harris, a married mother of two blindsided by a divorce filing by her husband, Bassett’s performance in the Forest Whitaker-helmed film drew overwhelming praise.
From torching her philandering husband’s luxury car, clothing, and accessories in one of the more dramatic movie scenes of the decade to bouncing back on the other side of the storm with her sanity intact, Bassett’s portrayal of Bernadine embodied the strength of a woman taken to the brink. Her work in Waiting to Exhale earned Basset the trophy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards in the following year, beating out her costar, the late Whitney Houston.
Stella Payne In 'How Stella Got Her Groove Back'
Bassett took on her second and final portrayal of a character born from the pages of a Terry McMillan novel for this 1998 blockbuster. Cast as Stella Payne, a 40-year-old stockbroker who finds companionship while on vacation in the islands, Bassett’s character falls for the comforting charms of a man half her age played by Taye Diggs. Yet, her responsibilities as a mother and aspirations as a career woman lead Payne to question whether the pair’s burning romance is better left as a fling rather than something more. Featuring costars Whoopi Goldberg, Regina King, Suzzanne Douglas, Michael J. Pagan, Barry Shabaka Henley, and Glynn Turman, How Stella Got Her Groove Back netted Bassett another NAACP Image Award in 1999, this time for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture. She was also awarded Best Actress at that year’s Acapulco Black Film Festival, now known as the American Black Film Festival.
Tanya Anderson In 'Akeelah And The Bee'
In 2006, Bassett played Tanya Anderson, the mother of prodigious spelling bee participant Akeelah Anderson. This heartwarming film finds Akeelah (Keke Palmer) achieving triumph through adversity. Bassett’s character also struggles to balance the pressures of motherhood while grieving the death of her husband while her daughter’s strengths as a speller are realized and nurtured under the tutelage of Dr. Joshua Larabee, played by Laurence Fishburne.
While the film revolves around Akeelah’s path to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, Bassett’s role has a familiarity to it due to her past portrayals. Yet, it was unique and resulted in her receiving various honors including Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture at the American Black Film Festival. One decade after sharing the screen together, Fishburne and Bassett created magic again, with the latter adding to her list of timeless performances.
Brenda Brown In 'Meet The Browns'
Family secrets are revealed in this Tyler Perry production, which stars Bassett as Brenda Brown, a single mother of three children who stumbles across romance in an unsuspecting place. After finding herself in a financial bind, Brenda travels from Illinois to Georgia to attend her absent father’s funeral and meet his family for the first time. Harry Belton, a basketball scout played by Rick Fox, takes a liking to the athletic talents of Brown’s son, Mike Jr., but becomes smitten with his mother in the process.
However, the looming presence of her son’s father, Mike Sr., and other difficulties put Brown and Belton’s union in jeopardy, resulting in a string of events that test each character’s strength in loyalty and love. Released in 2008, Meet the Browns was another success for Bassett. After the movie grossed over $41M at the box office, she earned nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards and Best Actress at the BET Awards later that year.
Voletta Wallace In 'Notorious'
When the life story of Hip-Hop icon The Notorious B.I.G. received the biopic treatment, Bassett was handpicked to star as Voletta Wallace, the rap phenomenon’s stern, yet doting mother. Playing opposite lead actor Jamal Woolard, Bassett shined in her performance, relying on her professional and personal experiences as a guardian. A tenured veteran at the time of her portrayal, Bassett was part of the movie’s cast which included Derek Luke, Anthony Mackie, Naturi Naughton, Antonique Smith, Marc John Jefferies, and Naturi Naughton. While Notorious received mixed reviews upon its release, the film was a box office success and helped document the triumphant rise of Biggie Smalls for the world to see. Bassett’s contribution to that feat is one of the oft-overlooked merits of her career.
Ramonda In 'Black Panther'
The 2018 arrival of Marvel’s Black Panther marked a cultural event that swept not only the Black community but also the world into a Wakandian euphoria. Inspired by the royalty and regality of utopian empires from years past, the comic book-inspired film would prove incomplete if not for Bassett’s contribution. Exuding a Queendom aura that belied her performances within the last quarter-century, the icon put forth a powerful one as the mother of T’Challa and Shuri. The showing garnered her accolades and she was crowned Best Actress at the 2018 BET Awards with a Screen Actors Guild nod for Outstanding Cast in a Motion Picture in the following year. Bassett has since reprised her role of Ramonda twice, first in Avengers: Endgame and most recently in the box office-smashing Black Panther sequel, Wakanda Forever.