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Angela Bassett Reflects on Diverse Roles, from Tina Turner to Queen Ramonda

Angela Bassett
D’Andre Michael

“Have I not given everything?” These words, filled with all of the pain and grief of a mother who has lost not only her son, but also her husband, and given of herself to and for her people, are those of Queen Ramonda, played regally by Angela Bassett in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”

When you see the name Angela Bassett in any cast list, you know that each scene she’s in will be one in which she captivates the audience, telegraphing everything felt through her words and body. With an acting career that spans four decades, and over a hundred acting credits to her name, Bassett has become a Hollywood screen legend in her own right, and as such is the honoree of Variety’s Creative Impact Award in Acting.

In selecting Bassett for this recognition of her work and impact on the film industry, Variety senior VP global content and executive editor Steven Gaydos says: “Few actresses have stepped into so many iconic roles, from rock queen Tina Turner to Malcolm X’s widow, Betty Shabazz, to Queen Ramonda to Coretta Scott King, and emerged triumphant from all of them.”

That line from “Wakanda Forever,” delivered during a rare moment of vulnerability by a woman known for her strength and commanding presence, speaks not only to Ramonda’s loneliness and grief, but also to Bassett’s career, as she’s known for having a commanding screen presence as she gives everything she has in each and every role.

Her career began with a series of small episode appearances on multiple television shows such as “Ryan’s Hope,” “A Man Called Hawk,” “227,” “Tour of Duty” and “Alien Nation.” But it wasn’t until her first lead role as Reva Styles in “Boyz n the Hood” that Bassett’s film career took off.

Her next major role would have a significant impact on her career, the industry and Black culture — Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X,” in which she starred opposite Denzel Washington, as the civil rights activist’s wife Dr. Betty Shabazz, whom she would play a second time in 1995’s “Panther.” With these two star-making roles in her repertoire, Bassett was then cast to play music icon Tina Turner in the 1993biopic “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”, giving a jaw-dropping performance that would earn her a historic Golden Globe win and an Oscar nomination for lead actress.

Despite audiences and critics around the world sitting up and taking notice of what a powerful performer she had grown into, Hollywood itself had yet to prove this with the expected influx of work that occurs when white actors are nominated for and win such big awards. Instead, there was little work for Bassett for almost two years, which curiously happened to Halle Berry when she won her Academy Award for “Monster’s Ball” in 2002.

“You think that after something like that, oh, scripts might be coming,” Bassett tells Variety, adding she did not expect things to happen “the same as it would for others” in the industry and her perseverance came with the attitude of “staying strong” despite these challenges.

Throughout the years, Bassett has continued to work in film and television, including dystopian sci-fi “Strange Days,” the popular drama “Waiting to Exhale” and her most notable and long-lasting television role of Sergeant Athena Grant in Fox’s “9-1-1.”

With a career path as versatile and resilient as she is, Bassett understands the nature of the business and values each and every character she chooses to play or projects she produces. To her, they’re all equally important and mean something.

“Presently I have a documentary that just dropped recently on Amazon Prime called ‘Good Night Oppy.’ I’m the voice of NASA! I just find great opportunities all around … and it may be my voice only. It may be animation. It may be a commercial. It may be a weekly one-hour drama ensemble, or it may be Queen Ramonda. So each one is important. And each one … demands, asks your devotion to it. So, I take it all seriously.”