A respected actress of the stage, screen, and television, Angela Bassett has been one of the few African-American actresses to break Hollywood's color boundary. She has specialized in playing strong women familiar with adversity and has worked in genres from "chick flick" (Waiting to Exhale) to sci-fi action (Strange Days) to biography (What's Love Got to Do with It?), the last of which featured her in a star-making performance as Tina Turner.
Born in New York City on August 16, 1958, Bassett was raised in St. Petersburg, Florida by her mother. Growing up in a household where money was tight, she was taught determination and independence. These values were called into service after an eleventh grade Upward Bound trip to Washington, D.C., when Bassett saw James Earl Jones in a Kennedy Center production of Of Mice and Men. Deciding that acting was her calling, she became involved in a number of local productions in St. Petersburg. She continued to act at Yale University, where she earned a scholarship; after completing a B.A. in African-American studies, she also spent three years at the Yale School of Drama. One of Bassett's mentors at Yale was the drama school's dean, stage director Lloyd Richards, who was so impressed with her talent that he cast her in two of his productions, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Joe Turner's Come and Gone. Although she enjoyed relative success on the stage, Bassett, like other African-American actors, had a difficult time finding roles in television and film.
African-American actress Angela Bassett initially gained notice when she was cast as Betty Shabazz, the wife of civil rights leader Malcolm X, in Spike Lee's biopic Malcolm X (1992), in which she earned a NAACP Image Award. She even received more notice for her portrayal as the music legend Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It (1993). Bassett's spectacular performance handed her a NAACP Image Award, and Golden Globe, as well as an Oscar nomination. Bassett, who has specialized in playing strong women, again captured the attention of the public after playing Bernadine 'Bernie' Harris in the adaptation of Terry McMillan's hit novel Waiting to Exhale (1995). Angela was awarded a NAACP Image Award in 1996 for her starring role in the film.
On the small screen, Angela Bassett also made a name for herself after having a character role in Ruby's Bucket of Blood (2001). Do to her brilliant performance, she was honored with a NAACP Award and a nomination at SAG. Additionally, Bassett's performance in CBS' biopic The Rosa Parks Story (2002) brought her a Black Reel Award and an Emmy nomination.
As her newfound status allowed her to expand her range of work, Bassett went on to star in a series of diverse films. In 1995, a foray into futuristic action in Strange Days was complemented by a lead in the successful women's ensemble drama Waiting to Exhale (based on the novel by Terry McMillan), in which Bassett starred alongside Whitney Houston, Lela Rochon, and Loretta Devine. In 1998, she starred as the title character in another McMillan adaptation, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, playing a divorcee whose discontent is ably assuaged by a hunky twenty-year-old (Taye Diggs). The following year, she had a supporting role in Music of the Heart and again tried her hand at action in Supernova, a sci-fi thriller. Starring in former Orson Welles collaborator and blacklisted director John Beery's critically panned swansong Boesman and Lena in 2001, Bassett (along with co-star Danny Glover) earned praise for their sensitive performances as a troubled South African couple striving to seek stability in the face of Apatheid.
Since 1997, Bassett has been married to actor Courtney B. Vance, whom she had known since their days at Yale.