For more than 30 years, Angela Bassett has built a lasting career in film and television. Among her many classic roles are some of the most renowned black women of the 20th century (including Tina Turner, Betty Shabazz, and Rosa Parks). More recently, Bassett also became famous to a new generation of filmgoers with her appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, culminating with one of the biggest and most successful films of all time. If you want to find out more about this brilliant actress’s life and legacy, keep reading.
1. Thanks, Jimmy!
In 1974, Bassett went on an 11th-grade class trip to Washington D.C. While there, Bassett and her classmates were able to see a rendition of the play Of Mice and Men at the Kennedy Center. One of the actors in the play was none other than James Earl Jones, who hadn’t yet become immortalized as the voice of Darth Vader. Despite this being pre-Star Wars, Jones’ performance still inspired Bassett to consider acting as a career for the first time.
2. Ivy League
Bassett attended classes at Boca Ciega High School in Gulfport, Florida. After she graduated in 1976, Bassett went to Yale University, where she got her Bachelor’s degree in African-American studies in 1980 and a Master’s degree in Fine Arts in 1983.
Angela Evelyn Bassett was born on August 16, 1958, in New York City. Raised in Harlem, Bassett is the daughter of Daniel B. Bassett and Betty Jane Gilbert.
4. What’s in a Name?
Bassett’s surname derives from her great-grandfather, a former slave named William Henry Bassett. William took the surname “Bassett” from his former owner, as many freed slaves did. Bassett herself later appeared in the film Malcolm X, whose titular character famously shed the surname passed down from a slave owner.
5. Learning the Past
In 2012, Bassett participated in the documentary series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Delving into her family history, Bassett traced her ancestry back to Nigeria, with additional roots in several other countries including the Congo and Senegal.
6. We All Start Somewhere
Before her acting career kicked off, Bassett worked as a photo researcher, as well as a receptionist working in a beauty salon.
7. It’s All Connected
Any Marvel fans reading this will know that Bassett has appeared in both Black Panther and Avengers: Endgame as T’Challa’s mother, Queen Ramonda. However, this wasn’t her first brush with comic book movies. Fox strongly considered her to play Storm in 2000’s X-Men, and in 2011, she appeared in DC’s Green Lantern. On a related note, Bassett had previously appeared in a film about the actual Black Panther movement in 1995 with the appropriate title Panther.
8. Wait, I Recognize That Voice!
We can imagine that most of you have seen at least one of Bassett’s movies, but in the case of one of those films, Bassett wasn’t actually credited. That film was the action flick Mr. and Mrs. Smith, starring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Despite playing the voice-over role of Mrs. Smith’s boss, Bassett went uncredited for her work (presumably after she watched the finished product).
9. And Introducing…
Bassett made her acting debut with the 1986 film F/X. Starring Brian Dennehy and Bryan Brown, the film follows an accomplished special effects artist being hired to stage the murder of a man entering the witness protection program. True to it being her debut, Bassett portrays a small role in the film as a television reporter.
10. Love and Marriage
During her career, Bassett has twice portrayed half of a dysfunctional couple alongside Laurence Fishburne. The pair famously portrayed Ike and Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It and portrayed the separated parents of the protagonist in Boyz N the Hood. Fishburne and Bassett also co-starred in Akeelah and the Bee, but they didn’t portray a couple, together or otherwise.
11. Name Written in Stone
On March 20, 2008, Bassett received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Anyone hoping to find it should go to 7000 Hollywood Boulevard.
12. Singing the Swan Song
Angela Bassett put her stamp on the final season of the long-running prime-time show ER. The swan song featured Bassett co-starring as Dr. Cate Banfield, the new ER chief. In case you were wondering, more than 16 million people tuned in to watch the season’s last episode (and the series finale).
13. Snubbed? You Decide
In 1993, Bassett co-starred in the musical biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It. She portrayed legendary singer Tina Turner in the film, which focused on her rise to stardom, as well as her abusive relationship with Ike Turner (played by Laurence Fishburne). The film was a financial success and resulted in both Fishburne and Bassett receiving Oscar nominations.
Bassett ended up losing the award to Holly Hunter in The Piano. It was the only Oscar nomination of her career thus far.
14. The One and Only
Despite not winning the Academy Award for her performance in What’s Love Got to Do with It, Bassett did make history by becoming the first black woman to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Musical or Comedy. As of 2019, she remains the only non-white woman to win said award.
15. Emmy Appreciation
By contrast to the Academy Awards, Bassett has received a lot of attention from the Emmys. During her career, she’s received two Daytime Emmy Award nominations (for her work on Storytime and Our America) and five Primetime Emmy nominations (The Rosa Parks Story, American Horror Story: Coven, American Horror Story: Freak Show, Master of None, and The Flood).
16. Love at First Sight?
While she was at Yale, Bassett met actor Courtney B. Vance. The two were married in 1997 and remain so to this day. The couple lives in Los Angeles with their two children.
17. Welcome to the World
Speaking of those two children, Bassett’s twins—a boy named Slater and a girl named Bronwyn–were born on January 27, 2006. The twins were born via surrogate.
18. Does This Sound Like You?
In 2009, Bassett appeared in the film Notorious, a biopic about the highly renowned (and short-lived) rapper Christopher Wallace, better known as The Notorious B.I.G. Bassett portrays Biggie’s mother, Voletta Wallace (who was herself credited as a producer of the film). Bassett was grateful to have Wallace around the set, as she was able to spend time with her to best recreate Voletta’s Jamaican accent.
19. That’s a Mouthful
Speaking of her role in Notorious, Bassett shares the role of Voletta Wallace with her 9-1-1 co-star, Aisha Hinds. Hinds portrayed Wallace in the miniseries Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and the Notorious B.I.G.
20. That’s Where the Acting Comes In
In the late 1990s, Bassett starred in the rom-com How Stella Got Her Groove Back, a film about a 40-year-old woman who attracts the eye of a man 20 years younger than her while she’s on vacation in Jamaica. In real life, Bassett was only 13 years older than her 27-year-old co-star, Taye Diggs. Everything we know is a lie!
21. Can’t Beat the Real Thing
Despite performing as Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to Do with It, Bassett didn’t actually sing Turner’s songs in the film. Turner herself re-recorded some of her songs for the film’s soundtrack. By contrast, Bassett’s co-star, Laurence Fishburne, did sing Ike’s parts in the soundtrack.
22. Seems Like a Low Number…
As of 2019, Bassett is one of just 11 black women to be nominated for the Best Lead Actress Oscar. The others are Ruth Negga, Halle Berry (who won her award), Dorothy Dandridge, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Whoopi Goldberg, Gabourey Sidibe, Viola Davis, and Quvenzhané Wallis.
23. Power Couple
Despite the two of them being accomplished actors with successful careers under their belts, Bassett and her husband, Courtney B. Vance, have only ever made two films together. One was the 1995 drama Panthers, and the other was the 2008 legal drama Nothing But The Truth, which sadly didn’t get a theatrical release due to its distributing company filing for bankruptcy. To be fair, the couple also starred in a play back in 2005 at Minneapolis’ Guthrie Theater.
24. Family Struggles
For a significant part of Bassett’s childhood, things were so difficult between her parents that she was sent to live with her father’s sister, Golden. This came to an end when her parents separated, and Bassett went with her mother down to Florida. She didn’t see her father for several years after that.
25. Did He Lose a Bet?
In 1999, Bassett took a co-starring role alongside Meryl Streep in Music of the Heart, which was based on a true story of a teacher setting up a program to teach the violin to youths living in New York City. Although the film wasn’t a box office success, it was nominated for two Academy Awards (and yes, Streep was nominated for performance, because of course she was).
The really bizarre fact about this entry in Bassett’s filmography is the fact that this hopeful drama was directed by none other than horror legend Wes Craven! It remains the only non-horror film he ever directed.
26. Three Times the Charm
Speaking of Wes Craven, he actually had the privilege of working with Bassett on three different projects during the 1990s. Prior to Music of the Heart, she appeared in his short-lived show Nightmare Café back in 1992 and also starred in his 1995 cult classic Vampire in Brooklyn alongside Eddie Murphy.
27. Lucky Break
Regarding What’s Love Got to Do with It, Bassett was a popular choice to play Tina Turner. Laurence Fishburne turned down the role of Ike Turner five times, and he only changed his mind when he found out that Bassett would be his co-star. Turner herself, upon meeting Bassett for the first time, loudly proclaimed “She’s perfect!” Despite all this positivity, Bassett very nearly lost the role of Turner to Whitney Houston (who only refused to do it because of imminent maternity).
28. One Role, Two Films
As we mentioned in the intro, Bassett co-starred as Betty Shabazz in Spike Lee’s epic historical piece Malcolm X, arguably his most ambitious film. What you might not know, however, is that Bassett reprised her role as Shabazz for another film three years later. That film was Panthers, directed by Mario Van Peebles and starring her future husband Courtney B. Vance.
29. No Thanks
In the early 2000s, Bassett had the chance to take the lead role in Monster’s Ball, a film about a racist prison guard’s relationship with the widow of an executed prisoner. However, Bassett turned down the role of Leticia Musgrove because it required nudity. Instead, Halle Berry took the part—and won an Academy Award for her performance. It was the first time that a black woman won the Oscar for acting.
30. Is This a Curse?
In another instance of Bassett giving up a star-making role, she passed on the role of Oda Mae Brown in the 1990 film Ghost. As you all probably remember, Ghost became a huge hit, and earned its co-star, Whoopi Goldberg, an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
31. It’s Tough to be the Queen
Creating Queen Ramonda’s wig for Black Panther was no simple process. Costume designers hand-rolled 120 separate dreadlocks to create the iconic hairstyle. But they weren’t the only ones putting in the work: Bassett underwent an intense training regimen involving jump squats, lunges, push-ups, and high knees. She performed these exercises at intervals of 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, for as long as an hour at a time.
What, you thought the Queen of Wakanda wasn’t jacked? Think again.
32. For the Prestige
In 2001, Bassett appeared in the heist film The Score, in the small role of the protagonist’s girlfriend. That might seem like a fairly substandard role for someone of Bassett’s caliber, especially considering that critics and audiences alike called the movie middling at best. However, according to Bassett, the chance to star alongside Edward Norton, Robert De Niro, and Marlon Brando inspired her to join the cast.
Bassett joked that even though she didn’t actually have any scenes with Norton and Brando, she still considered them “good company to keep.”
33. The Oscar Whisperer
Bassett’s more recent productions include one of Netflix’s most acclaimed series. In the adult animated comedy series Bojack Horseman, Bassett voices a publicist called Ana Spanakopita. During the third season, she takes charge of the campaign to garner an Oscar nomination for Bojack, even as they also become lovers in the process. We’ll refrain from making a joke about Bassett’s own Oscar record because we respect her too much for such a cheap shot.
34. You Seem Familiar!
Two of Bassett’s co-stars have played two different members of her family in different films. In the first instance, she portrayed the mother of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s character in Boyz N the Hood. Then, they played siblings 25 years later in American Horror Story. In 1993, Bassett played the daughter of Jennifer Lewis’ character in What’s Love Got to Do with It. Once again, they played sisters in Meet the Browns around 15 years after that.
35. No, She Doesn’t Play Baseball
In yet another example of Bassett bringing famous and accomplished black women to life onscreen, she acted as Michelle Obama (then-First Lady of the US) in a 2010 episode of The Simpsons titled “Stealing First Base.”
36. Exceeding Expectations
As we mentioned before, Bassett is a thoroughly accomplished woman, and that includes her education. Her mother engrained this drive to succeed in her during high school. She was normally an “A” and “B” student who took part in many extracurricular activities (cheerleading, drama club, choir, student government). But it wasn’t enough for her mother. She was deeply disappointed when Basset got a “C” in physical education.
According to Bassett, she tried to blow it off as an acceptable “average” mark. Unimpressed, her mother stated that she didn’t have “average kids.” Bassett made sure that she didn’t get a C again after that, crediting that to the “sense of pride” that her mother instilled in her.
37. Brutal Memory
During the production of Malcolm X, director Spike Lee gave Bassett something that he hoped would help shape her performance. In case you weren’t aware, the real Malcolm X was assassinated in the Audubon Ballroom in front of a crowd that included his wife, Betty Shabazz, and their children. Prior to filming that scene, Lee gave Bassett a tape of the actual assassination.
After listening to the “haunting” sounds on the tape, Bassett re-created the chilling scene with grim accuracy. She later reflected that she couldn’t imagine how the real Shabazz had managed to find “the strength to keep going, to raise her family, to educate, to sustain them.”
38. Giving Back
In between her various film and television projects, Bassett also pursues various philanthropic actions. She is an active ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and has supported various programs for the arts aimed towards youths. Additionally, Bassett has endorsed and patronized several yearly events for children suffering from diabetes.
39. Art Influencing Life
While acting in the film How Stella Got Her Groove Back was a success for Bassett, the film was also an unintentional thorn in her side regarding her real-life love story. Production interrupted her wedding plans, and she ended up walking down the aisle a month into Stella’s filming schedule.
40. What a Twist!
Some of you might remember that Bassett’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back was based on the true story of Terry McMillan, which she turned into a bestselling book. Unfortunately for McMillan, her real life story didn’t have the happy ending that her character (as played by Bassett) got in the Hollywood film. McMillan’s much-younger Jamaican lover, Jonathan Plummer, married her and came to the United States with her.
However, he eventually revealed that he was actually gay, and had been hoping to marry his way out of Jamaica. Hopefully that doesn’t ruin How Stella Got Her Groove Back for any of you.
41. Wait, That’s Her?!
You may not realize that Basset’s voice appears on one of the best dance records of all time. In 1999, British big beat star Fatboy Slim released his classic track “Right Here, Right Now.” As anyone who’s heard it will know, the title repeats many times throughout the song. What they might not know is that the iconic “Right here, right now” is actually Basset’s voice! The statement comes from a line she speaks in the 1995 film Strange Days.
42. In the Wake of a Tragedy
In 2016, a lone gunman entered a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida and opened fire, killing 49 people and injuring many others. Later that same year, the LGBTQ advocacy group known as the Human Rights Campaign released a video in tribute of the 49 victims of the mass shooting. Bassett was one of 49 celebrities who stepped in and each recounted the lives of the victims, ensuring that their names and legacies would not be forgotten.