An ode to Angela Bassett's arms — and the power they possess
I've been watching Angela Bassett movies ever since I can remember. While, in my youth, I might not have understood what was actually going on in the film, her raw talent — and the sheer virtue of her arms — were enough for me to understand one thing: Black women could be powerful and get things done, despite what the world throws at them. Watching my single mother's favorite movies and shows with her as I was growing up quickly became "our thing," and while I didn't make many friends on the playground trying to discuss the latest episode of Frasier or Unsolved Mysteries, I do credit my mom with all of my pop culture knowledge. (And in many ways, my job at EW!)
I don't remember the first time I saw a Bassett performance, but I can absolutely recall every man who has ever wronged her on the big screen. (To this day I hold grudges against Michael Beach and Laurence Fishburne, and I don't plan on getting over them anytime soon.) She's always had a way of not only telling a story but also portraying everything my mother has told me a Black woman should be: proud, confident, powerful, empowering, and — most importantly — absolutely ripped.
D. Stevens/Buena Vista Pictures/Everett Jackie O'Brien, Angela Bassett, and Laurence Fishburne in 'What's Love Got to Do With It'
One of my favorite Bassett movies (and biopics, period) is What's Love Got to Do With It, the 1993 Tina Turner biopic costarring Fishburne as Ike Turner. I wasn't allowed to watch the whole movie, of course, but I could watch the scenes that were most important to me, the ones that showcased what I thought highlighted Bassett's superpower: her arms. As a child, I was enamored with her performances of "Proud Mary," "Rock Me Baby," and "A Fool in Love," and had I known who or what an Oscar was, I would have demanded she'd been given one then and there — it didn't matter that I had not watched the entire movie. My absolute favorite part, the part my mom knew better than to let me miss, was the end of the film when Bassett's performance transitions into one of Tina's performances. As a small child, seeing Bassett "turn into" Tina was enthralling and gave me so much insight into the legend she was portraying.
It wasn't until I was older and could watch, and understand, the movie as a whole that I realized the full scope of Bassett's power as Tina. (I'd also go on to learn that Tina Turner herself provided all of the vocals in the film, but I'd still argue with anyone that Bassett deserved that Oscar.) It inspired me to read I, Tina, which made me realize how much homework and preparation Bassett put into becoming Tina — and my admiration for her grew even more. Watching the movie now, I completely understand why Bassett doesn't think she was robbed of the Oscar that year, but I'd be lying if I said it doesn't sting a little to see such a powerful Black woman pour so much of herself into playing another powerful Black woman, only to not be awarded for those efforts.
Even without the Oscar, Bassett's performance (and Turner's real-life resilience) have taught me so much about my own womanhood, and how important it was to find my own voice in this world.
Frank Trapper/Corbis/Getty Angela Bassett and Michael Beach in 'Waiting to Exhale'
Another favorite to watch with my mom was Waiting to Exhale, Forest Whitaker's feature directorial debut based on Terry McMillan's novel. The film stars Bassett (Bernadine Harris) alongside Whitney Houston (Savannah Jackson), Loretta Devine (Gloria Matthews), and Lela Rochon (Robin Stokes), following their characters' relationships with men. In a way, I always saw my mom as a combination of Bernadine's resilience, Savannah's independence, Gloria's warmth, and Robin's wit.
Although all four give memorable performances, Bassett's monologue during the car-burning scene is unforgettable. In fact, the only thing more impressive than her impassioned delivery is the fact that Bassett improvised the entire thing. Waiting to Exhale will always remind me of my own mom's refusal to accept nothing but the best for herself, and Bassett's performance will forever remind me that I can survive anything. (And most importantly, that friends never let friends drunk dial their ex.)
Admittedly, I am not a Marvel fan in the slightest, but I'll do just about anything for Bassett — including sitting still through Black Panther and Wakanda Forever for a combined total of 4.35 hours (it's at that point when her Queen Ramonda dies, and then I had no reason to keep watching). Even as a non-Marvel fan, I can admit that her Oscar-nominated work in Wakanda Forever was incredible. Paying tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman, the film is yet another testament to a time when Bassett has taught me another important life lesson: how important it is to honor loved ones we've lost even when the world presses us to move on.
I'm not saying that she should win an Oscar for her arms alone, but I am saying that even Academy Award-winning costume designer Ruth E. Carter designed the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever costumes with the actress' royally stunning arms in mind: "It was important to set the tone for this film, as we have strong women in charge," she explained. "These exposed arms showed her strength, her beauty, her vulnerability, and her confidence. And you know, Angela Bassett has arms that anybody would envy."
ELI ADÉ/MARVEL STUDIOS Angela Bassett as Queen Ramonda in 'Black Panther: Wakanda Forever'
Regardless of whether Bassett takes home the Oscar this Sunday, her list of accomplishments — and their positive impact on her admirers — outweighs that of her peers by many. But how good would that statue look with her holding it…
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