April 21, 2024

12 Angela Bassett Movies You Can Stream Right Now


Angela Bassett purple dress

Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images.

Nearly 30 years ago, Angela Bassett was nominated for her first Academy Award for What’s Love Got to Do with It, Brian Gibson’s adaptation of Tina Turner’s memoir. The film was Bassett’s breakout role. In portraying Turner, the actor established what we’ve since come to know as her calling card: her ability to depict Black women as complete people — figures both vulnerable and tenacious.

She didn’t win the award. Instead, the Oscar went to Holly Hunter, who that year starred as Ada McGrath in The Piano. This year, Bassett was nominated for another Academy Award, this time for her role as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. For the second time, she lost the trophy, which went to Jamie Lee Curtis.

Despite these snubs, in the decades since she’s come up, the actor has created a vast body of work and become a sought-after star known for bringing a sense of dignity to any project she joins. As a wise woman once said, Bassett “did the thing.”

In honor of the acclaimed actor, we’ve highlighted 12 movies you can stream now to grasp her legacy.

Boyz N The Hood (1991, Hulu)

John Singleton’s 1991 masterpiece brought Black urban life to the forefront of mainstream cinema with its story of Tre Styles (Cuba Gooding Jr.), a temperamental young boy sent by his mother Reva (Bassett) to South Central Los Angeles in hopes that his father (Laurence Fishburne) will teach him some discipline. Tre and his friends not only navigate the usual struggles associated with masculine adolescence, but also encounter the Bloods and Crips at the height of their rivalry. Fishburne’s Furious Styles has more screen time, but Bassett nails Reva’s quandary as a mother who only wants the best for her son, even if that means letting him out of her grasp. Plus, her read of Furious later in the film — “You may be cute, but not special” — fits all the tension one could fathom between separated parents into one withering glare.

Malcolm X (1992, HBO Max)

Denzel Washington was rightfully applauded for his masterful portrayal of Malcolm X in Spike Lee’s 1992 epic biography. But in portraying his wife, Betty Shabazz, Bassett kept up with Washington in the same way Shabazz did with the polarizing activist. Across three hours, Bassett depicts Shabazz’s journey from a Detroit transplant surviving the throes of ‘50s Alabama racism to the timid wife of a budding, commanding leader. Eventually, she becomes X’s confidant and consultant, an equal willing to challenge her husband’s political beliefs and strategies. Only Shabazz could match her husband in this way, and only Bassett could portray the woman — a nurse, educator, and activist in her own right — with appropriate nuance and strength.

Vampire in Brooklyn (1995, Hulu and HBO Max)

Pop culture has no shortage of vampire stories and they all usually revolve around the same push and pull between a mysterious, seductive creature of the night, and a young woman avoiding his thrall. But 1995’s Vampire in Brooklyn — for which Eddie Murphy tapped Wes Craven to show off his dramatic acting chops before moving on to the likes of The Nutty Professor — spins the genre with a unique story. Murphy’s Caribbean vampire Maximilian heads to the city to find the dhampir (a human-vampire hybrid) that will keep him alive past the full moon. The dhampir in question is Bassett’s Rita Veder, an NYPD detective investigating the killings stemming from the fanged demon. While panned at the time, the movie boasts remarkable chemistry between the two actors, and as a precursor to Scream, it illustrates Craven’s singular blend of classic horror attributes and genre-skewering humor.

How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998, Hulu)

Media, like society as a whole, struggles to present Black women as real people. From mammies to jezebels, stereotypes abound that define them in terms of their sexuality without reverence for their individual personhoods. However, for a brief moment in the ‘90s, we were gifted with a slew of television and film all about these ladies: their friends, work, and love lives included. Kevin Rodney Sullivan’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back is one of the best of the genre, a vehicle for Bassett to pursue romantic comedy and remind us in the meanwhile that Black women deserve joyful Caribbean vacations (and that women as a whole don’t age out of romance when they hit 40).

Notorious (2009, Hulu and HBO Max)

In the movie of The Notorious B.I.G.’s life, Bassett plays Christopher Wallace’s (played here by Jamal Woolard) mother, Voletta. Following a classic rags-to-riches-to-tragic-end arc, George Tillman Jr.’s film veers into cliche biopic territory at times, dramatizing Wallace’s experience as a drug dealer and, according to Lil’ Kim, inaccurately portraying her place in his story. Yet, whether or not Wallace was really stashing “mashed potatoes” under his childhood bed, Bassett sells Voletta’s disappointment. When she kicks her son out of the house at 17, you worry for him — even if you already know how the story ends.

Green Lantern (2011, HBO Max)

Few critics would say Green Lantern is a “good” movie, but this one’s for the DC diehards. Martin Campbell’s adaptation of the comic books follows Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan, the test pilot who becomes the first human member of the Green Lantern Corps. Meanwhile, Bassett portrays Amanda Waller, the mysterious government agent who oversees the autopsy of fellow intergalactic cop Abin Sur. The 2011 flick came out before filmmakers seemed to realize they could offer genuine storytelling within a superhero vehicle, so it’s not exactly a substantial piece of art. Still, it’s a treat to watch in retrospect, especially since Waller has become a growing presence in modern DC films like The Suicide Squad (played there by Viola Davis).

Jumping the Broom (2011, HBO Max and Prime Video)

Black romantic comedies have become a genre of their own, infusing the earnest love story with heightened humor, raunchiness and, often, conflict. 2011’s Jumping the Broom leans into the latter, with a specific interest in what it means to be Black in the 21st century. When bride Sabrina (Paula Patton) and groom Jason’s (Laz Alonso) families meet during their wedding weekend, they instantly realize their differences will be hard to overcome. Jason’s mother Pam (Loretta Devine) bristles at Sabrina’s upper-class upbringing. In one particularly pointed scene, she and Sabrina’s mother Claudine (Bassett) argue over whether the couple should partake in the film’s titular historical practice, with Claudine asserting it won’t be necessary since “my ancestors weren’t slaves.” Marriage may be its backdrop but the picture uses a love story to investigate how respectability politics and class divide Black Americans, and how we can hopefully reconcile our differing beliefs to move forward in a society that pits us against each other.

Black Nativity (2013, Hulu and HBO Max)

Langston Hughes’ play exists within Kasi Lemmons’ 2013 musical but at its core, Black Nativity is more about everyday family relationships than the birth of a savior. In the film, Bassett and Forest Whitaker play the well-meaning estranged grandparents of the young Langston, a troublemaker sent to spend the holidays with them in New York City after his mother, Naima (Jennifer Hudson), is evicted from their Baltimore home. Naima has a strained relationship with her parents, and after falling on hard times her son understandably has trouble adjusting to their affluent, religious lifestyle in the city. The story of redemption is a bit heavy-handed at times but its stars play it straight, and getting to hear them sing — in addition to an appearance from Mary J. Blige, who plays an angel — offers some (likely unintentional, but who cares) levity.

Black Panther (2018, Disney Plus)

Ryan Coogler’s 2018 blockbuster proved Black superheroes were not just profitable, they were essential. The late Chadwick Boseman anchors Black Panther as T’Challa, but Bassett’s Ramonda serves as his advisor, a Wakanda native who guides her son as he returns to his home kingdom to rule after his father’s death. As always, the actor portrays the Queen Mother with poise and conviction, an opinionated mother who wants the best for her son and her nation. As Boseman once put it, “she may not be exactly right all the time, but she definitely has insights.” Of course, those insights would become especially necessary a little later.

Soul (2020, Disney Plus)

For its first project with a Black protagonist, Pixar enlisted Pete Docter — the legend behind Monsters, Inc., Up, and Inside Out — for a film about an aspiring jazz pianist as cerebral as the music at its core. Jamie Foxx stars as Joe Gardner, a middle school band teacher who dreams of playing jazz professionally. But just when he’s invited to join Dorothea Williams’ (Bassett) quartet, he’s killed in an accident, his soul (separated from his body) resolved to understand the meaning of life and what happens after death. If the film fell through the pandemic-era cracks for you, it’s worth a watch. The animation studio’s world-class cinematography and storytelling are on full display, and music from Jon Batiste, Trent Reznor, and Atticus Ross bolster its cast’s heartening performances.

Gunpowder Milkshake (2021, Netflix)

If its incredible name wasn’t enough of a hint, let us first offer a disclaimer that Navot Papushado’s Gunpowder Milkshake doesn’t take itself too seriously. Instead, it’s a good old-fashioned action thriller with no shortage of badass woman leads: Karen Gillan, Carla Gugino, Michelle Yeoh, Chloe Coleman, and Bassett. In the 2021 movie, Gillan’s Sam is a young woman born into the assassin business whose morals put her at odds with her boss and father by proxy. Determined to help save a young girl caught in the assassins’ crossfires, the women embark on a series of shootouts and fight scenes that are more fun than frightening, evoking the bright colors of a comic book within a genre that’s grown increasingly gritty. Next time you need a lighthearted action sequence, Netflix has you covered.

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever (2022, Disney Plus)

The tragic loss of Boseman in 2020 threw a wrench in Coogler’s plans for a Black Panther sequel. After all, what is Wakanda without its king? At its core, last year’s long-awaited follow-up, Wakanda Forever, would ultimately stew on that question. The film is all about grief: T’Challa’s death is written into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and everyone in the kingdom must manage their emotions while also protecting their home, now under siege by neighboring nations. This is where Bassett steps up. Without her son available to lead the charge, Ramonda is reinstated as Queen, and Bassett portrays this ascendance with all the rage and sorrow you’d expect from a woman in her circumstances. “Have I not given everything?” Ramonda demands during a particularly heavy scene. Bassett’s performance is a testament to the talent she brought as one of the core Black Panther actors, portraying Ramonda with a pained conviction that is captivating from beginning to end.

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