Oscar Actors: Bassett, Angela–Background, Career, Awards

Angela Bassett Career Summary

Occup Inheritance: No

Social Class: Middle


Training: Yale Schoo of Drama

First Film

First Theater

First TV

Oscar Nomination: 1993, age 35

Other Awards: Emmys, SAG

Marriage: Actor, Courtney Vance, 1997; age

Politics: Democrat

Angela Bassett was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar in 1993 for her powerhouse performance as Tina Turner in Brian Gibson’s showbiz biopic, What’s Love Got to Do With It.

Based on Turner’s memoirs “I, Tina,” co-written with Kurt Loder, this essentially story of marital abuse, the film depicts the rise of Tina Turner (nee Anna Mae Bullock), a native of Nutbush, Tennessee as a performer, to become a legendary phenom with such string of hits as “Proud Mary.”

Turner has such a unique and powerful voice that helmer Gibson’s decision to have Bassett lip-synch to the real singer’s voice is very sound. But it’s Bassett’s highly charged turn that makes the film work and immensely stirring.

Laurence Fishburne also was nominated for the Bets Actor, as Tina Turner’s abusive husband Ike turner, the R& B musician, who was instrumental early on in her career.

The performances are vivid and terrific, but the film suffers from showbiz clichs, due to Kate Lanier’s formulaic scenario.

Oscar Alert

In 1993, Bassett competed for the Best Actress Oscar with Holly Hunter, who won for “The Piano,” Stockard Channing in “Six Degrees of Separation,” Emma Thompson in “The Remains of the Day,” and Debra Winger in “Shadowlands.”

Angela Evelyn Bassett Vance (born August 16, 1970) is an American actress, director, producer and activist known for her biographical film roles, most notably her performance as Tina Turner in the biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993), for which she was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar and won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Comedy or Musical.

Bassett has additionally real life figures Betty Shabazz in both Malcolm X (1992) and Panther (1995), Katherine Jackson in The Jacksons: An American Dream (1992), Voletta Wallace in Notorious (2009) and Coretta Scott King in Betty & Coretta (2013).

Her other notable film roles include Reva Styles in Boyz n the Hood (1991), Bernie Harris in Waiting to Exhale (1995), Rachel Constantine in Contact (1997), Lynne Jacobs in Olympus Has Fallen (2013) and London Has Fallen (2016), and Queen Ramonda in Black Panther (2018) and Avengers: Endgame (2019).

Yale School of Drama

Bassett began her film career in the 1980s, after earning a bachelor of arts degree from Yale University and a master of fine arts degree from the Yale School of Drama. In the 1990s, she appeared in films nearly every year. The 2000s saw a succession of films starring Bassett, with her appearing in at least one film every year. Bassett’s success has continued into the 2010s. Bassett earned nominations for her roles in films such as The Score (2001), Akeelah and the Bee (2006), Meet the Browns (2008) and Jumping the Broom (2011) and won awards for her performances in How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998) and Music of the Heart (1999), among others.

Emmy Award Nominations

Bassett’s performance as Rosa Parks in the 2002 TV film “The Rosa Parks Story” was honored with her first Primetime Emmy Award nomination.

In 2013, Bassett had a recurring role on the FX horror anthology series American Horror Story: Coven, earning her second Primetime Emmy Award nomination for her performance as Voodoo queen Marie Laveau. She returned as a series regular for Freak Show, the series’ fourth season, portraying Desiree Dupree, for which she received another Emmy Award nomination. For the fifth season, Hotel, she portrayed Ramona Royale, a famous movie star. Bassett returned to the series’s sixth cycle, Roanoke, portraying an alcoholic actress named Monet Tumusiime, who plays struggling mother and former police officer Lee Harris in the My Roanoke Nightmare documentary, and she reprised her role as Marie Laveau in a guest role in the eighth season Apocalypse.

In 2018, Bassett began producing and starring in the Fox first responder drama series 9-1-1, playing LAPD patrol sergeant Athena Grant.

Bassett was born on August 16, 1958, in New York City, the daughter of Betty Jane and Daniel Benjamin Bassett, and was raised in Harlem.

Bassett’s middle name was given to her in honor of her aunt Evelyn. The origin of the Bassett surname comes from her great-grandfather William Henry Bassett, who took the surname of his former slave owner. Ten months after Bassett was born, her mother became pregnant and had a second child, Bassett’s sister D’nette. Bassett said the pregnancy “only made things harder.” Bassett’s parents “shipped” her to stay with her father’s sister Golden,  who did not have any children of her own.

After her parents’ divorce, she relocated from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to St. Petersburg, Florida, where she and her sister D’nette were raised by their social worker-civil servant mother. Bassett did not see her father again for several years, until she attended her grandmother’s funeral. There, Bassett met his daughter from his first marriage, Jean, who at twelve years old, was several years older than Bassett.

After graduating from Jordan Park Elementary School, she began being bused out of her neighborhood to attend Disston Middle School for seventh grade. The year she began attending was 1970, the first year busing was implemented to integrate public schools in St. Petersburg. After completing seventh grade, she was bused to Azalea Middle School for eighth and ninth grade.

Bassett was “in love” with the Jackson 5 and dreamed of marrying a member of the family group, stating it would probably be “whoever had the cutest, roundest Afro at the time. In my imagination we would have children and live in a real house.” As her interest in entertainment developed, Angela and her sister would often put on shows, reading poems or performing popular music for their family.

At Boca Ciega High School, Bassett was a cheerleader and member of the Upward Bound college prep program, the debate team, student government, drama club and choir. A straight “A” and “B” student for the most part, Bassett got her first “C” in physical education, and tried to get her mother to not feel disappointment in the grade.

During high school, Bassett became the first African-American from Boca Ciega to be admitted to the National Honor Society. She participated in Upward Bound, an academic and cultural enrichment program for underprivileged students. Bassett says she and the other participants did not see themselves as underprivileged.

Yale University

Bassett attended Yale University and received her B.A. degree in African-American studies in 1980. In 1983, she earned an M.F.A. degree from the Yale School of Drama, despite opposition from her father’s sister who warned her to not “waste” her “Yale education on theater.” She was the only member of Bassett’s family to have gone to both college and graduate school.

Theater Debut: 1985

At Yale, Bassett met her future husband Courtney B. Vance, a 1986 graduate of the drama school. Bassett was also classmates with actor Charles S. Dutton.
After graduation, Bassett worked as a receptionist for a beauty salon and as a photo researcher. Bassett soon looked for acting work in the New York theater. One of her first New York performances came in 1985 when she appeared in J. E. Franklin’s Black Girl at Second Stage Theatre.

She appeared in two August Wilson plays at the Yale Repertory Theatre under the direction of long-time instructor Lloyd Richards. The Wilson plays featuring Bassett were Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (1984) and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (1986).

In 2006, she had the opportunity to work on the Wilson canon again, starring in Fences alongside longtime collaborator Laurence Fishburne at the Pasadena Playhouse in California.

In 2018, Basset was awarded an honorary D.F.A. degree from her alma mater, Yale University.

TV Debut

In 1985, Bassett made her first television appearance as a prostitute in the TV movie Doubletake.

Film Debut:

She made her film debut as a news reporter in F/X (1986), for which she was required to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG).

Bassett moved to Los Angeles in 1988 for more acting jobs and gained recognition in the films Boyz n the Hood (1991) and Malcolm X (1992).

Malcolm X

For her portrayal of Betty Shabazz, she earned an Image Award.

The movie was not entirely given positive reception–some critics said it failed to capture the rage of Malcolm X’s life.  During production, Spike Lee showed Bassett a tape of the exact moment when Malcolm X was shot, since they would be filming the scene. Bassett called the recording “haunting,” but noted that after listening, she was “able to grab hold of the pain and re-create the scene.” Bassett felt it was important for her to get the assassination scene correct, and wondered how Betty “found the strength to keep going, to raise her family, to educate, to sustain them.”

SAG Awards

Throughout her career, Bassett has appeared in pictures about real-life women, most recently as Coretta Scott King in the TV movie Betty and Coretta. This role gave Bassett her second Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie nomination.

Marriage: Actor

Bassett married actor Courtney B. Vance in 1997.  The couple’s twins, son Slater Josiah Vance and daughter Bronwyn Golden Vance, carried by  surrogate, were born on January 27, 2006.