It wasn’t exactly surprising, given how momentum shifted after Jamie Lee Curtis won the SAG Award for Best Supporting Actress, but still, there was a sting in her winning the Oscar over Angela Bassett. And Bassett felt it, you could tell.
As Curtis’s name was read, Bassett didn’t roll her eyes or gesture rudely or say anything detectable by cameras, she just looked sad. Maybe even devastated. After all, she won two of the big precursor awards, the Golden Globe and the Critics Choice Award, and she, like Curtis, had the “it’s her time” narrative working in her favor. It was not unreasonable of her to think she might win, certainly not unreasonable to WANT to win. But she didn’t win, and in the moment, you could tell she felt it, that she was disappointed and working through her feelings in real time, on national TV.
Not everyone was prepared to give her the space to do so, though.
Of course, some people immediately made this about respectability politics. But again, Angela Bassett said nothing and did nothing other than look visibly disappointed when she lost a major career award. That’s it! She BARELY emoted and even that was too much.
Like damn, get off her back, let her feel her feelings. It sucks to lose when you think, even a little bit, there’s a chance you might win. And some people might drag out the Marvel of it all and point out that her nomination is the first time an actor has even been recognized for an MCU role, but still, she is ANGELA BASSETT. She has a storied career, and as much right to work the “it’s her time” narrative as Jamie Lee Curtis, and nothing against The Right Honorable Lady Haden-Guest, but there’s a reason that narrative worked harder and faster for her than it did Angela Bassett.
I don’t think anybody is really mad at Jamie Lee Curtis. I don’t think Angela Bassett is mad at Jamie Lee Curtis. They both couldn’t win, they knew that going in. And just as Bassett looked braced for disappointment before the winner was read out, so did Curtis. Which means we have to ask if Curtis would be raked over the coals for looking disappointed had Bassett won, and the answer is, probably not, and the reason why is self-evident.
Bassett’s Black Panther co-star Michael B. Jordan had her back later, giving her a “Hey Auntie” shoutout supported by Jonathan Majors.
Maybe he would have acknowledged her regardless, but I bet the tone of it would have been different if Bassett was holding an Oscar in her hand. “We love you,” that’s a reminder—she has a community behind her. But as we’ve seen this awards season, despite the efforts to expand inclusion in the Academy, Black creatives are still at a disadvantage. The soft mechanisms of power, the whisper campaigns, the favoritism, continue to benefit those that have always benefitted.
Sort of an accidental case in point, in 2021 the Academy moved Best Actor to the final category, obviously expecting it to go to the late Chadwick Boseman, but Anthony Hopkins won instead, which wrecked the intention. So this year, Danai Gurira came out to introduce Rihanna’s performance and talk about Boseman’s legacy and finally have that loss acknowledged from the Oscars’ stage.
It’s just obvious there’s still a lot of work to be done, individually and systemically, to create greater inclusion and foster more empathy. Again, it’s not Jamie Lee Curtis’s fault that she won, but it sucks that Angela Bassett can’t even literally sit with her loss without people berating her and telling her how she should act. She is a grown woman, leave her alone. She didn’t do anything inappropriate, let alone wrong, she just wore her disappointment for everyone to see. Sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, but her feelings are valid and she didn’t do anything with them other than, you know, feel them. Let Angela Bassett live.