The true talent of being an actor or actress, is the ability to transform into any role, in between any timezone and bring it to life as to where it’s more than believable and those watching, feel the character being portrayed, is someone realistically existing before them.
Notable and highly praised actresses, Angela Bassett and Viola Davis have been in the game for 20 years plus and still running. There hasn’t been a role we’ve seen these two impeccable women play, where they didn’t execute the foundation of what it means to ‘become the character,’ in films and TV series appearances ranging from romance to drama and action or sci-fi/fantasy.
The thing about Bassett”s, 59 and Davis’, 52 work, is that is sometimes may fall short of being completely recognized. Especially, when Bassett who’s been on the acting scene since 86,’ hasn’t once, received an academy award, which was a disappointment due to her fearless and spot-on portrayal as music icon, Tina Turner in the 1993 film, “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” And Davis, who finally was given her flowers just last year, as the Acadamy Award winner for ‘Best Supporting Actress,’ in August Wilson’s “Fences,” after memorable performances, years before.
In order to show some love to our queens on and off the screen, we’re highlighting a few of Bassett’s and Davis’ best cinematic and TV performances, from the start of their career to the ones they’ve came and conquered, decades in.
What’s Love Got to Do with It (1993)
There are certain roles, where the actor or actress playing them, does so well, it’s more than certain the role was made strictly for them. Bassett did just that while playing one of the greatest entertainers and voices of Rhythm and Blues and Rock and Roll, Tina Turner. The emotion and energy put into this role made us see the truth behind Turner’s life within her career and unfortunate, abusive marriage, to musician and husband, Ike Turner. Although Bassett didn’t really sing the chart-topping records Turner gave us throughout her impactful career, her ability to make lip-syncing seem believable in every scene showing her creating the music or performing it, deemed the role Oscar-worthy, to begin with. The costumes, facial expressions and body structure were just a plus added on to the portrayal, but what made it one for the books ultimately along with the music, was Bassett’s courage to play a role that required an emotionally, broken state, which eventually birthed, an even stronger woman.
The Help (2011)
You is kind. You is smart. You is important.
There were a lot of groundbreaking talent within the story that came alive in this film. With that being said, we have to take a moment to mention another favorite of ours, Octavia Spencer, who took home the 2012 Golden Globe Award for ‘Best Supporting Actress-Motion Picture,’ for her role as Minny Jackson. What I admired most about Viola’s portrayal as silent but strong, Aibileen Clark, was the way her skillful acting shined through just the looks on her face, subtle speech and embodiment that carried through being a working black woman in segregated America, where she and her companions made it a priority to have their stories told. It was the final scene which moved me like many others within the film as a whole, where Davis’ character Aibileen, is demanded to leave her job from relentless Hilly, where she has gained a strong relationship with the likes of her boss, Elizabeth daughter. Although it hurt Aibileen, it sparked the confidence within her to want to continue to tell her story, with the hopes of being a writer herself and how very important, a black women’s position in the family and raising that family, is relatively needed. Davis’ walk away from the Leefolt’s home, as tears streamed down her face, holding on to her gained pride, showed her consistent execution through emotion, she effortlessly maintains.
American Horror Story (2014-2016)
Bassett did an exceptional job moving from one character to another in the four she played on the critically acclaimed fantasy series, “American Horror Story.” Her first appearance was in the series third season, Coven, as Marie Laveau, a cutthroat voodoo queen, who’s fearless and unremorseful toward all of her actions. We were graced with Bassett’s appearance afterward in Freak Show, this time as a three-breasted, freak show performer, Desiree Dupree, who embraces the unusual qualities of her body, with confidence and pride. The character Ramona Royale of Hotel was next, an ambitious film star in the 70s and finally in Roanoke, Monet Tumisiime, an acholic actress, whose behavior is controlled by the character she plays. Basset stepped out of her usual motherly, heroic or independent woman character in order to step into an entirely different genre of TV entertainment. Major props for burying her comfort zone and retorting to a new audience than her past work, which in the end, worked out seemingly great.
I read August Wilson’s “Fences,” my sophomore year of high school in AP Literature. I was grateful we were gravitating from Homer’s “The Odyssey” and recap papers on each chapter to something I felt more interestingly connected to, playwrights and their work. Once finishing it, there was no doubt in my mind that there would be a film to follow soon and that’s exactly what happened, years later as top-dog Denzel Washington took a seat at the director’s table and recruited an incredibly talented production team and cast, to take this play on to the big screen. The performances in this film had to be some of the strongest I’ve ever seen, there wasn’t a dry eye in the theater, accompanied by complete silence in awe of the talent we were viewing. Davis had a key role in this film, as Rose Lee Maxson, wife of cheating, hard-head, Troy Maxson. Fed up of Troy’s rough behavior and basically dragging his family through the mud, there’s a defining scene where she lets him have it, and anyone who’s seen the film knows exactly what I’m talking about, and hence the clip above. This scene alone, defined Davis’ career in so many aspects, in a way where it was almost as if we were in the same shoes as Rose. Davis’ in this film made me believe more in the power of words and how the person saying them, can ultimately, make them even more powerful.
The Rosa Parks Story (2002)
- Named ‘Best Television Movie’ in the NAACP Image Awards
- Bassett won NAACP Image Awards ‘Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie’
How to Get Away With Murder (2014-present)
- Davis was the first black woman to win an Emmy for ‘Oustanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series’
- Awarded ‘Television Performance of the Year’ by American Film Institute
- Won ‘Oustanding Drama Series’ at the 46th NAACP Awards
- Two 2009 BET Award nominations
- Best Actor: Jamal Woolard
- Best Actress: Angela Bassett
- Two 2010 Image Award nominations
- Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture
- Outstanding Director in a Motion Picture
Lila and Eve (2015)
- Two 2016 Image Award nominations
- Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture: Viola Davis
- Outstanding Director in a Motion Picture: Charles Stone III
We admire actresses like Anela Bassett and Viola Davis for more than what they’re able to do on screen, but the endless inspiration and idolization we’ve received from who they are and what they’ve done for aspiring black actresses and black women in general, off the screen.
Don’t think for a minute, these women are giving us a drought in the acting world. You can catch Angela Basset in new FOX drama, “9-1-1” where she’ll play field sergeant, Athena Grant and Ramonda, Queen Mother of Wakanda, in the highly anticipated Marvel film, “Black Panther” next month. And as for Davis, she’ll be gracing the big screen this year in director Steve McQueen’s thriller, “Widows” and of course, we can catch Davis as our favorite professor, Ms.Annelise Keating in “How to Get Away with Murder,” every Thursday night.