Actress Angela Bassett, with her high-cheekboned beauty and soothing voice, has always been a distinctive onscreen presence. She’s been acting since the '80s, but is winning over new generations of fans thanks to her portrayal of Queen Ramonda in the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther. As the Queen, she presides over the fictional land of Wakanda with dignity and wisdom (plus she dons a variety of striking costumes). Bassett is back in the sequel that's in theaters now, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever — so we’re taking a moment to celebrate some of her many fabulous roles. One thing’s for sure: Even when she’s not playing a literal queen, Bassett remains undeniably regal.
What’s Love Got To Do With It (1993)
Playing a musical powerhouse like Tina Turner takes some serious chops, and luckily Bassett was just the right woman for the job. While she didn’t actually do her own singing in the film, Bassett perfectly captured all of Turner’s ups and downs — as well as her signature dance moves. She won a Golden Globe for this performance, and was also nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. The role required some serious commitment, as she told Rolling Stone, “It was a very physically demanding endeavor, as well as emotionally and spiritually. We were exhausted, working out every day, doing two hours of weightlifting and then about 10 hours of cardio with the dance movements. We would do take after take after take after take. You were just inhabiting the character, putting it on, sleeping with it, listening to her voice in your ear as you drift off to sleep.” The movie is available on the free streaming platform Tubi.
How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998)
Bassett excels at portraying mature women finding love and embracing their best selves. In this charming '90s rom-com, she plays a successful 40-year-old stockbroker and single mom who goes on a vacation to Jamaica and she meets a handsome younger man (the dreamy Taye Diggs, in his movie debut). Bassett and Diggs have some serious chemistry, and the mix of a lovely beachside setting and sparks-flying romance makes this one a must-watch. Need more convincing? A Refinery29.com piece describes the love scenes as "beautiful, seamless, and so sexy… These are two of the finest, most attractive human beings to ever grace Hollywood.” Can’t argue with that! You can check the movie out on Amazon Prime and Hulu.
Waiting to Exhale (1995)
Waiting to Exhale is an enjoyable tale of female friendship and romantic perseverance, featuring a killer soundtrack written and produced by Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds (a twelve-time Grammy Award winner and R&B music producer). Bassett stars as Bernadine, a woman who’s reeling from her husband’s shocking announcement: He’s leaving her (and their kids) for a white woman who works for him. Bernadine has spent years putting her dreams on hold for this man, so she’s understandably fed up; and the scene in which she sets fire to her ex's car has been used as a reaction GIF all over the internet. Bernadine ends up getting a happy ending — but she really gets put through the wringer first. Still, this movie makes it clear that Bassett is not to be messed with. You can watch it on HBO Max.
Akeelah and the Bee (2006)
This inspirational story about a young girl competing in a national spelling bee can be enjoyed by the whole family. Bassett plays 11-year-old Akeelah’s widowed mom, who is initially skeptical of the spelling bee endeavor out of protectiveness for her daughter — but ends up learning a few important lessons herself alongside Akeelah's journey. In an interview with BlackFilm.com, Bassett said, “I loved the role… and the journey that [my character] has to take, to go from her own personal fears and disappointment, and through her child she gains some measure of courage herself. I got to twist and turn a little bit. I think it's a good thought to put out there; a woman who's up against some challenges and her child shows her the way and is a little beacon, a little light for her.” That attitude of seeking positivity in the face of adversity is another reason we love Bassett. You can rent the movie from Amazon and other services.
Otherhood follows three powerhouse actresses — Bassett, Felicity Huffman, and Patricia Arquette — as they navigate the challenge of being mothers to adult sons and redefining their identities once their children have grown up. Feeling neglected on Mother’s Day, the trio decide to visit New York City and surprise their sons — with mixed results. The film depicts a tricky time of life — and the experience of empty nest syndrome — with honesty and grace, and Bassett serves up some iconic no-nonsense vibes (as always). You can watch this lighthearted take on mature motherhood on Netflix.
So, if you can't make it out to the theaters this Thanksgiving week, just kick back at home and relax with Angela Bassett’s onscreen resume. Whether she’s playing a comic book queen, a musical icon, or a fed-up divorcée, she’s a joy to watch.
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