Angela Bassett Doesn’t Owe The Oscars A Thing — Not Even A Smile

Photo: Gilbert Flores/Variety/Getty Images.
My expectations for this year’s Oscar Awards were low. After another long awards season of Hollywood doing what it does best — ignoring Black art — I wasn’t particularly looking forward to the show besides judging the celebrity fashions on the red carpet, watching Rihanna perform live (Twice in one month? What a time to be alive!), and getting these tweets off. Still, the promise of Angela “Thee Original Thespian” Bassett doing the thing and finally getting the Oscar she’s long been due for her powerful performance as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever fuelled me. Dressed in a gorgeous purple Moschino gown, Bassett looked every bit of the Wakandan royalty she brought to life just months ago. I just knew that this was going to be her night.
In the stacked category of Best Supporting Actress, it was Jamie Lee Curtis who walked away with the Oscar for her role in the box office giant Everything Everywhere All At Once. Curtis’ win was a surprise. Besides Bassett, Curtis’ co-star Stephanie Hsu was the other fan favourite and natural shoo-in for the category, bringing audiences to tears as Michelle Yeoh’s daughter and nemesis in the A24 film (which also took home seven different Oscars, including Best Picture).
However, knowing the Academy’s history of excluding Black women and having read some of the blatantly and violently anti-Black rationales behind their votes, we shouldn’t have been surprised by Bassett’s snub. (Days before the awards show took place, several nameless trolls within the voting body freely discussed their resentment towards the Black actors and directors in EW’s annual secret ballot reveal. One voter’s beef with Bassett’s Wakanda Forever performance? “It's a comic book, and she was a comic book character.” How astute.) Nonetheless, the loss still stung. When Bassett’s name wasn’t called, the fans weren’t the only people taken aback. Most of her fellow nominees offered up big smiles and overeager cheers, but Bassett’s face fell, and you could very clearly see the disappointment in her eyes. She couldn't mask the fact that her feelings were hurt — and she shouldn’t have had to.
Hawk-eyed Oscars viewers took notice of the actress’ crestfallen reaction, and unfortunately, some actually took it upon themselves to try to teach her a lesson in etiquette. (Before you even ask: yes, they were.) Many people on social media took issue with the fact that Bassett didn’t stand to applaud for Curtis or fake a smile in the moment. Some jumped at the chance to call her a “sore loser,” suggesting that her very human reaction was more about ego and “entitlement”. Let them and the racist anonymous Academy voters tell it, Bassett should’ve been thankful just to be included in the nominations.
Here’s the thing: losing sucks. No matter what field or industry you’re in, no matter which way you look at it, not winning is a crappy feeling, and it doesn’t get easier the older you are or the longer you’ve been in the game. In Bassett’s case, it probably feels even worse because it’s yet another slap in the face. After an awards season (there are multiple other award shows that lead up to the Oscars and act as predictors of the winners) where Bassett was the clear favourite, her omission from the winners’ circle is even more frustrating. It’s a reminder that no matter how talented she is — and she is so talented — her work may never be good enough for this establishment.
Bassett has been working in Hollywood since the late 1980s, becoming a household name through the success of projects like Boyz in the Hood, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, What’s Love Got to Do with It, The Jacksons: The American Dream, Malcolm X, Waiting to Exhale, and countless others. Her work, just like her beauty, is timeless, and it has always been excellent, no matter the role. Yet, in these almost 40 years of consistently incredible performances, Bassett has been overlooked by the Academy. It’s hard to wrap my mind around it, but with hundreds of acting credits under her belt, she has never won an Oscar. Not a single one.
The Hollywood veteran has been candidly optimistic about the trajectory of her career and the fact that she doesn’t have an Oscar yet. We may feel that she should have won in for What’s Love Got to Do with It — a portrayal so convincing that a whole generation was convinced that Bassett was Tina Turner — and should have at least been nominated for several more roles over the years, but Bassett hasn’t taken it too personally. In a recent interview with CBS’ Gayle King, the actress shrugged off the losses and chalked them up to fate.
"Of course, in the moment you're hoping and praying and wishing, but I never walk away thinking I've been robbed,” Bassett shared. "That's too negative of an emotion to carry with me for the rest of my life. I choose to believe there was a reason why it didn't happen."
That typically sunny outlook and the humility that she projects despite literally being Angela Bassett makes this loss (and the subsequent negative discourse about her response to it) feel especially egregious. Following the global success of Black Panther, the stakes for its sequel were sky-high, and the cast and crew of the Marvel Cinematic Universe knew that picking up the story of one of the most beloved superheroes of our time without our real-life hero would be a Herculean task. But Ryan Coogler and the cast of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever were up for the challenge and exceeded expectations by telling a new kind of superhero story. From its soundtrack to its historic Oscar-winning costuming, every single aspect of the film was moving, but Bassett’s performance as the grieving Queen Ramonda was especially poignant; her grief-stricken throne room monologue shook audiences to their core. (Months later, we still haven’t forgiven Ryan Coogler for what he did.) Her final act as the Wakandan matriarch was so impactful that it made history, earning the MCU its first-ever Oscar nomination for acting — a significant achievement considering the industry’s snobbery towards the superhero genre. With her performance, the MCU was finally seen as real cinema, as real art. 
Given the heavy lifting Bassett did for her film, for the genre, and for Hollywood with her portrayal, it’s only natural for her to feel let down by the loss at the Oscars. But in a space where Black art, feelings, and people aren’t a priority, she was demonised for a perfectly normal reaction. Interestingly enough, Bassett wasn’t the only loser in her category to not plaster on a smile after the announcement; The Banshees of Inisherin’s leading lady Kerry Condon was also noticeably stone-faced upon learning that she’d lost. And across other categories, many of the male nominees didn't crack a smile either. Yet Bassett’s facial expression is the only one being picked apart, criticised, and demonised. Wonder why that is. 
Beyond my natural instinct to want to defend Bassett (that’s Muva!), I have so much empathy for her in that moment and in the conversation that resulted from it because I’ve been in her position. All Black women have. We know that society holds us to the highest standards while simultaneously leaving us no margin for error. Misogynoir demands that we always be the best and brightest in every room — the most talented, the most put together, the friendliest — but it also intentionally strips us of our humanity in the process. The emotions of Black women are rarely respected or taken into consideration within these spaces. Having a bad day at work and being quieter than usual? People take issue with it and single you out. Standing up for yourself in an unfair situation? You’re quick to be labelled “aggressive” or “intimidating.” Even when you’re on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, happily doing your thing and feeling yourself á la Beyoncé, it’s a problem. They want to humble us in triumph and then ask us not to be human in defeat. The perpetual policing of our emotions is the reason why so many of us are constantly performing happiness and trying to be agreeable, even to our own detriment. It’s not about masking or trying to fit in; it’s about survival. 
Angela Bassett was robbed at the 2023 Oscars, point blank period. It wasn’t the first snub, and knowing this industry’s thinly veiled resentment towards talented Black women, it unfortunately will likely not be the last. Even though she’s been rejected and ignored by the establishment time and time again, Bassett has never let it stop her from doing the work that she loves. She’s an artist through and through, a thespian dedicated to her craft, a maverick devoted to the culture. She does this because she’s passionate about it. And that love of telling stories — telling our stories — will always serve a purpose far more important than anything the Academy has to offer.
Still, before anything else, Bassett is a human being first. And while the Academy may owe her an Oscar or two (or five), she doesn't owe them a single thing. Not even a smile.
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