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.
In 1986, Bassett made her screen debut in the cult favorite F/X. Following supporting roles in Kindergarten Cop (1990) and John Sayles' City of Hope (1991), she had her first significant screen role in John Singleton's acclaimed Boyz 'N the Hood, playing a struggling single mother. Two years later, after playing the wife of civil rights leader Malcolm X in Spike Lee's biopic and the Jackson Family matriarch in the made-for-TV The Jacksons: An American Dream, Bassett had her screen breakthrough as Tina Turner in What's Love Got to Do with It?, a performance that earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe.
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 Berry's critically panned swansong Boesman and Lena in 2000, 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 Apartheid.
Her career continued to evolve with a part in The Score in 2001. The next year she executive produced and starred in a biopic about civil rights figure Rosa Parks. She was part of the large ensemble John Sayles brought together for Sunshine State, and co-starred opposite Bernie Mac in the sports comedy Mr. 3000. In 2006 she played the mother in the spelling bee drama Akeelah and the Bee, and she continued to land parts in big-budget blockbusters such as Green Lantern and This Means War.
Since 1997, Bassett has been married to actor Courtney B. Vance, whom she had known since their days at Yale.