Angela Bassett Didn’t Smile. And?

Girls for Gender Equity
5 min readMar 13, 2023

by: Toni A. Wilson, Director of Culture & Narrative Shift (GGE)

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Angela Bassett didn’t smile. Nor did she clap. She didn’t fake it. She instead sat in her disappointment, and presumably, in her exhaustion. She didn’t give white Oscar viewers her well wishes but instead chose to recognize the injustice she’d just experienced. And I am so proud of her for that decision.

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Angela Bassett showed up to the 95th Academy Awards donning a purple Moschino gown, representing royalty. Her hair was in soft curls pushed back so that her face, which is always serving 10s, could be shown in all of its regality for her deserving moment. Her theme for the evening: timeless beauty. Angela Bassett was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Queen Mother (Ramonda) in the Marvel film, Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, directed by Ryan Coogler. Angela lost the award to Jamie Lee Curtis for her less than 10-minute role in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Please be forreal. The camera, of course, already focused and zoomed in on every nominee, showing a visibly disappointed and unsettled Angela Bassett, who did not clap nor smile when her peer went to receive her trophy. Social media, journalists, and viewers quickly went to work.

Marvel Studios

If I’m being honest with myself, I knew Angela wasn’t going to take the trophy home. I also didn’t even think they’d award Stephanie Hsu, who was also deserving for her phenomenal role in Everything Everywhere All At Once. Deep down, I knew they would award Jamie with the trophy simply because that’s what Hollywood does. The Academy remains an oppressive institution upheld by racism, sexism, homophobia, colorism, ableism, fatphobia, and every other ism and phobia. And still, it remains an institution that determines the value of your acting career. Jamie Lee Curtis winning for Best Supporting Actress is white mediocrity at best because in what world has she ever given a better performance than Angela Bassett — especially, when we juxtapose their performances in these two 2022 films. As Black women, we know what it’s like to be in industries, careers, rooms, and spaces that are historically violent to us. Angela Bassett is no different. She’s sitting in a room where you can count the number of Black people attending and you can count the Black nominees on your hands. She has navigated this reality time and time again. But you continue to ask her to smile?

Angela Bassett has been giving us show-stopping, jaw-dropping, gut-wrenching, soul-stirring performances for over three decades now. Performance after performance. Black women are tired of performing “being okay.” Across every sector, Black women are overworked, underpaid, ignored, devalued, disrespected and deemed invisible. Angela Bassett gave an Academy Award-winning performance in Wakanda Forever but instead a white woman was awarded for an average and forgettable performance. The idea of us working twice as hard to receive half, if any, recognition continues to ring true. If the Oscars wanted to see an Angela Bassett performance last night, then maybe they should check out her work in The Jackson’s: The American Dream, Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, Waiting to Exhale, or her timeless and iconic portrayal of the Queen of Rock & Roll Tina Turner in the biopic, What’s Love Got To Do With Itthe Academy win she was robbed of 30 years ago.

What’s Love Got To Do With It

What’s ironic about all of this is that Angela was not alone in her stoicism. Diane Warren, a white woman who’s been nominated for the Best Original Song year after year, also lost last night, and she too chose not to smile and clap for the winner in her category. But because we live in a racially and gender-biased world, only the emotions of a Black woman were policied last night. Angela remains the only one white folks have taken to social media to chastise because she didn’t put on her tap shoes to dance. Misogynoir makes it clear to us time and time again that only white women are allowed to have emotions. Only white women can appear hurt or fragile; Black women are strong and can withstand anything. Instead of Angela Bassett being given grace as an actress who’s probably just lost her last Oscar nomination, because we know Black women and women of color are not cast in “Oscar-worthy” roles or films as often as white women and nominated for them even less — just look at how Till and The Woman King, two powerful films starring Black women telling real stories, were snubbed this Award season, she is instead being reprimanded for having a human emotion and reaction.

Marvel Studios

Though she was robbed of her win, we see Angela later in the evening providing solace and comfort to a very nervous Austin Butler by holding his hand as he awaited to hear whether or not he won the trophy for Best Actor. This is who Black women are. We gather ourselves. We face our trials and our pains internally but externally we still show up for those around us. We give out grace and kindness eternally more than we receive it.

As Queen Mother passionately declared in Wakanda Forever, “Have I not given everything?” To answer your question Ms. Bassett, yes, yes you have. You have given us an abundance and overflow. And if you never did anything else, you have done enough. And for everything you’ve given us, we say thank you a million times. You didn’t just do the thing, you did EVERYTHING.

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Toni Wilson is the Director of Culture & Narrative Shift at Girls for Gender Equity. She is also a social worker, organizer, cultural critic, plus size influencer, fat liberationist and BlackFeminist from Brooklyn with roots in Jamaica. She can be found @ FatBlackLuxury.

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Girls for Gender Equity

Girls for Gender Equity (GGE) is an intergenerational organization centering the leadership of cis and trans Black girls and gender-expansive youth of color.