On Feb. 9, Santa Barbara International Film Festival kicked off its award ceremonies celebrating the biggest names in films released within the past year with the Montecito Award. The award — which recognizes an individual who gave the performance of their career in film this past year — was presented to two-time Oscar nominee Angela Bassett for her performance in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
Bassett’s role as Queen Ramonda in the sequel to the Marvel Studios’ box office hit “Black Panther” was critically acclaimed and led to her nomination for Best Supporting Actress in the upcoming Oscar awards. This is Bassett’s second Academy Award nomination, and she was first nominated for an Academy Award — for Best Actress — in 1993 for her portrayal of rock legend Tina Turner in the biographical film “What’s Love Got to Do with It.”
The Montecito Award ceremony was set to start at 8 p.m., but by 7:30 p.m. the Arlington Theatre was already halfway full and audience members were buzzing with excitement.
A little after 8 p.m., executive director of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) Roger Durling walked on stage to introduce the event. Durling detailed how thrilled he was to be celebrating the night and shared that it was special, as Bassett is one of his role models.
“She imbues her characters with a spirit, with an eternal life force that is so intoxicating to watch. Her name in any film guarantees that she will deliver a terrific portrayal,” Durling said.
Durling then shared with the audience that Bassett is the first person in a Marvel Studios movie to be nominated for an Academy Award in any acting category.
Then, Durling welcomed Bassett to join him onstage. Bassett graced the stage and was met with a standing ovation from the audience. The award ceremony was a celebration of Bassett’s extensive career, and she began by detailing her first experiences with acting.
“I fell in love with [acting] when I was sitting in the theater at fifteen watching James Earl Jones perform on the stage. So theater was my first love, but it didn’t seem practical,” Bassett said.
Bassett studied at Yale University, and the actress shared that she was involved in the theater program but was not pursuing it as a career. However, in graduate school she switched paths and enrolled in David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University. During her time at Yale, Bassett was able to work with legendary writers like August Wilson.
Durling asked Bassett about a lack of representation of Black women in film growing up, to which Bassett credited Black actors and singers that she looked up to who paved the way.
“Growing up in St. Petersburg, Florida in the 50s, 60s, 70s we would turn on ‘Ed Sullivan’ and The Supremes were on. We would walk outside and yell ‘Black people on TV! Black people on TV!’ We were so thrilled to see that representation, excellence, that charm and talent. So you look for that, it wasn’t as if ‘Oh this is impossible.’,” Bassett said.
“If I went to the movies and saw Cicely Tyson or Diana Ross … you just loved seeing those who look like you on screen. I thought maybe it’s possible … I look outward to the performances that they gave and I found joy and pride and possibility,” Bassett said.
The night was a celebration of Bassett’s filmography, and SBIFF presented multiple film clips from some of Bassett’s most notable films. The first two clips were of 1991 coming-of-age drama “Boyz n the Hood” and 1992 Spike Lee-directed drama “Malcom X.”
Durling asked Bassett about her approach to portraying historical figures, highlighting that “she doesn’t impersonate, she latches onto the spirit of a person.”
Bassett detailed preparing for her role of Betty Shabazz, civil rights leader Malcolm X’s wife. Bassett discussed how she talked with Shabazz’s eldest daughter for reflections that are closest to the truth, and how she went to the civil rights leader’s burial site to ruminate.
The next film clips were from “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” a mini-series on the musical family group The Jackson’s rise to success, and “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” a biographical film about music icon Tina Turner.
In both of these films, Bassett again played historical figures — Katherine Jackson, mother to Michael Jackson, and Tina Turner.
While discussing “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” Durling asked Bassett about how her agents initially told her not to do the movie due to allegations against Michael Jackson coming to light around that time.
“I remember telling my agents, I’m not going out for the role of Michael, I’m going out for the role of their mother and one thing is true: they adored their mother, they revered their mother. And that, a reverence for mothers, is what I want to put out into the world,” Bassett said.
Bassett also shared acclaim for the multiple child actors who portrayed the Jackson siblings, referring to them as her “teachers” as her next film, “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” entailed her needing to sing, dance and act.
“[The kids] sang, danced and acted — and even went to school. At least I didn’t have to go to school!” Bassett joked with the audience.
Bassett then discussed the work that went into portraying rock legend Tina Turner. Bassett highlighted the limited time filming the movie as producers wanted the film release to coincide with Turner’s North American tour in 1993. Bassett said that one scene turned into a 25-hour workday.
Durling asked Bassett if it’s hard to shake off a character after embodying them in a film, to which Bassett responded that Turner was the hardest to shake off.
“[Turner is a] larger than life rock star and to embody that is a dream come true. The way she spoke, her laughter, the glitter in her eye. I lived and breathed that,” Bassett said about her portrayal.
Audience members were reminded of Bassett’s extensive and iconic filmography as a series of clips from the films “Strange Days,” “Vampire in Brooklyn,” “How Stella Got Her Groove Back,” “Music of the Heart” and “Akeelah and the Bee” played throughout the award ceremony.
The last film clips were from her most recent films, “Black Panther” and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.”
The clips showcased speeches that Bassett performed as Queen Ramonda, the mother of Black Panther, T’Challa. Durling asked Bassett how she was able to give such an elevated performance, and Bassett credited director Ryan Coogler’s writing as the lines were already on the page, she just needed to perform them.
“I had in my heart how I feel protecting my family, my children. All of those things are not so far from me. The pride I take in the community. All those things you can apply and feel,” Bassett said about her performance.
Bassett also discussed the representation that both films offer. “It’s incredibly satisfying. To offer that representation I longed for, to be given the opportunity to offer is a great full circle moment,” Bassett said.
The interview with Bassett concluded, and “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever” director Coogler walked on stage to provide a short speech about Bassett to present the award.
Coogler detailed how he would go to the cinema with his family and see Bassett’s films growing up, and how she embodies the truth.
Coogler also shared a humorous anecdote about one of the first times he met Bassett. During the premiere of his 2015 film “Creed,” he was surprised that the iconic actress was at the premiere talking to his grandmother. His grandmother shared with him after that Bassett wanted him to hire her. Flashforward, the two are working together on “Black Panther” in 2018.
Coogler also shared how Bassett was a powerful force on set, bringing life and truth to the words in the script.
Coogler then handed the award to Bassett, which was met by a roar of applause. Bassett spoke to the crowd and shared that she is grateful for all the love shown to her tonight, “This is a beautiful community, and I look forward to returning to this community … I will see you at the movies,” Bassett concluded.