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REVIEW

Black Panther Star Angela Basset receives the 2023 Montecito Award

11 February 2023
  • Written by
    Maryanne Knight
  • Photographed by
    A. Arthur Fisher
Angela Basset at SBIFF 2023

 

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Elegant in a pale lavender pantsuit, the ever-youthful Angela Bassett arrived to a standing ovation from a full house at the Arlington Theatre on Thursday, where she was honored with the 2023 Montecito Award for outstanding performance for her iconic role as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther:  Wakanda Forever.

Angela Bassett’s first love was theater, and it’s clear to anyone familiar with her work that her passion never waned. In a wide-ranging interview with SBIFF Director Roger Durling, she spoke about her excitement at seeing the Supremes on the Ed Sullivan show as a child, the first time she saw people who looked like her on the television. At Yale, she tried other subjects, and considered going into teaching, but ultimately, theater studies pulled her in. As a student under Dean Lloyd Richards, she had the opportunity to work with legendary playwright August Wilson and ultimately starred in his play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on Broadway.

Her early career was focused on the stage. Seven years in New York, she did work off-Broadway, in commercials, and auditioned for plenty of movie roles, only to find those parts going to actors in Los Angeles. Seeing that trend, she moved to Los Angeles in 1988, where she was cast in episodic roles in television, and was concerned about being pigeonholed as a television actor. Her first movie, a film titled Desert Rose, fell apart and was never finished. Her breakout came when she was cast to play Reva Styles in Boys in the Hood, directed by a youthful John Singleton.

Ms. Bassett puts her heart and soul into each role she performs. As Durling said of her portrayal of historical figures such as Dr. Betty Shabbaz in Spike Lee’s Malcom X, Tina Turner in What’s Love Got to do With It, or Katherine Jackson in the television mini-series The Jacksons:  An American Dream, Ms. Bassett doesn’t “impersonate, [she] embodies.” To portray Dr. Shabbaz, she met with her daughter for insights only a child would have of their parent. She spoke of going through photo albums with Tina Turner and the absolutely grueling work of filming that movie, including one 25-hour day filming the concert sequences.

Her graciousness and dedication to her craft were on full display throughout the interview. She spoke of her love of working with young directors, such as Ryan Coogler on the Black Panther movies, and going toe-to-toe and not being intimidated by big stars such as Meryl Streep. She doesn’t let nay-sayers distract her, staying focused on the work to be done. She characterized her work as a dream come true, to be able to offer a chance for young black kids to see themselves on screen, just as she did with the Supremes all those years ago. 

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Santa Barbara International Film Festival photo from State Street