This past Oscars ceremony was definitely one to remember, with much to celebrate. Although the theme of the night felt like a constant slight of Will Smith and the unfortunate situation that occurred at the last ceremony, this year felt intentionally different. The mood was more positive and there was effort in creating a safe space in the prestigious atmosphere.
One of the categories I was most excited about was best supporting actress, mostly because of the recognition of Angela Bassett. She was the first actor from the Marvel Cinematic Universe to be nominated for an Oscar and I felt her passion through the screen in her role as Queen Romanda in “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.” I was very excited to witness her moment of glory, but unfortunately that moment never came.
That long-awaited moment was realized by “Everything, Everywhere at Once” star, Jamie Lee Curtis. Although I was proud of Curtis as she walked up on stage to accept her award, a part of me did not feel that she deserved it for the role she played in the movie. Opposite to Michelle Yeoh’s Evelyn, she acted as a minor inconvenience/antagonist. Although her humorous presence was enjoyed, there was nothing that attached me emotionally to the character. There was nothing about her that left me wanting to invest emotions of empathy.
“Everything Everywhere all at Once” is far from disappointing. It feels like a tribute to everything weird and existential, holding absolutely nothing back. There were many emotional moments, but the problem for me was that Curtis occupied very few of them.
I was quite surprised that Curtis’ name was called when an actress like Bassett, who puts all of herself in every role, has yet to receive an Oscar. You could see the expression on her face, as there was a level of weight to this loss. People online were criticizing her for not smiling when Curtis won, but after decades of losing I understand not wanting to celebrate immediately. While any actor or actress could have the same response to losing in any category, people’s eyes were on her. Some were bold enough to say that she was a bad sport, or that she was having a tantrum. I believe that she had the most human reaction and I do not think that it is fair to judge a person seconds after realizing another chance for an Oscar was lost.
To put it plainly, it was a bittersweet win. Bassett and Curtis, coincidentally the same age, have not received the recognition that they deserve in this tough industry. I think that being honored with an Oscar nomination must be humbling. But winning is a whole different level of emotion, gratitude and pride. There is an extra layer of those emotions when so much is put into a role. Bassett delivered more than Curtis on that front. I think an actor does their job right when after viewing their film or show, you still think about their performance. You think about the themes of the project, the growth or actions of the characters and you make a consensus about how everything made you feel. Within this category, the question is how did this performance push the story forward?
In my mind, I thought that if Basset did not win, then Stephane Hsu most certainly would. I definitely would not have been bothered, because like Bassett, Hsu brought something real and different to the screen. It was a performance that still lives rent free in my mind. She drove the film forward, as both the main antagonist of the film and the motivator of the protagonist. Hsu brought so much of her personality and charisma and created a formidable challenge for Michelle Yeoh’s character. And like Yeoh, she had to play multiple versions of her character in this multiversal existential film. Hsu’s character pushed the movie’s theme into perspective and allowed it to be challenged. Is it worth living in a world where nothing matters? This complex theme is dissected with overarching rebuttals on the power of love. This complexity was not experienced or administered by Curtis’ character. There were multiple scenes in which Hsu took command of the screen, but for Curtis, there was no specific scene worth remembering, or thinking too much about.
I think that this should be the basis of what makes an actor an Oscar winner: a performance worth remembering. Although no one can change the outcomes of the past, and no one can take Curtis’ moment away, I still believe that Bassett gave one of the most believable and powerful dialogues of the year. Her passion pushed the movie forward and left room for the main character Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, to grow into a hero.
The scene that I believe got her nominated, and should have given her the Oscar, was when she confronts the general of the Dora Milaje, Okoye, played by Danai Gurira. Basset plays Queen Romonda, who fills the royal position at the death of her son, King T’Challa, who was played by the late Chadwick Boseman. In earlier films, she lost her husband, King T’Chaka, in a senseless act of violence. Despite Okoye’s best efforts, she has lost Princess Shuri. In a display of a range of emotions, Bassett delivers a powerful monologue, relieving Okoye from her duties. With anger, fear, disappointment and sorrow, she nearly chokes herself, projecting onto her council and soldiers as she speaks her truth. She says, “I am Queen of the most powerful nation in the world and my entire family is gone. Have I not given everything?”
I am slightly biased about Bassett. I believe that she is the epitome of hard work and good graces. Although she is praised in the Black community, I really wanted to see her shine in this space at this time. Her performance made me tear up and sent chills up my spine, and for that work I believe she deserved more.
It is hard to tell a winner that they don’t deserve their award, because Curtis is an icon, but I don’t believe that this was the time nor the role. I know that Bassett will continue to put herself in more roles, and will pump out many more outstanding performances. One can only wish that all of that hard work accounts for her Oscar moment.