Angela Bassett Recalls How A 12-Year-Old Keke Palmer Actually Got Her The Role As Her Mother In Akeelah And The Bee

Keke Palmer and Angela Bassett in Akeelah and the Bee
(Image credit: Lionsgate)

Keke Palmer and Angela Bassett have been compared for some time now. From their physical resemblance to Palmer’s spot-on impression of the Oscar-nominated actress, fans can’t help but see some of Bassett in the Nope star. Of course, the connection goes beyond the similarities, as the Black Panther actress once played Palmer's on-screen, supportive and stern mother in the spelling bee drama Akeelah and the Bee. Both were great in the movie and, as it turns out, Palmer may have played an instrumental role in Bassett playing her mother in the 2006 classic.

The two stars reunited for a special Vanity Fair video celebrating the drama film. Keke Palmer admitted to being a huge fan of both Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne due to their work in the 1993 biopic What’s Love Got to Do with It. Fishburne had already been cast as Dr. Larrabee before his frequent co-star was cast as the title character’s mother, Tanya Anderson. Palmer recalled thinking, at the time, that it would be something if the Oscar-nominated co-stars could reunite years after co-starring in the Tina Turner biopic. During the conversation, Bassett stated that it was Palmer who got her the role:

I don’t know, for some reason, I recall that I got the role because of you. Is that true? I think that you suggested, they asked who would like to be your mom and you said, ‘I want Angela’. That’s what I recall, that’s what I remember during that time of how I came around to that project.

Can you blame Keke Palmer for wanting to work with her idol? And the casting worked out, given that she, Bassett, and Fishburne gained critical acclaim for their roles and scored multiple award nominations. While no one scored an nodds from the Academy, all three actors, including Bassett, gave Oscar-worthy performances.  

The now-29-year-old True Jackson, VP alum recalled being excited upon learning that Angela Bassett was joining the indie drama. For the young actress, sharing the screen with Bassett and Laurence Fishburne was a dream come true. But once she got past being starstruck, the actress then sought to learn from her colleagues. The Hustlers star recalled what it was like watching their interactions with everyone on set, saying:

I was very nervous and excited about Akeelah and the Bee. Obviously, [it was] my first really big starring role. I was pretty much in every scene but one. And I remember just how professional you were. I think that was the really awesome [part] for me with both of you guys is seeing what it’s like to be with a real professional serious actor that treats everyone well, and just kind of was a real example of what it is to be a success was. I didn’t realize it then but being my age now, I look back and I’m like, man, those were my best teachers.

Keke Palmer seems to have taken away quite a bit from her time on the set of Akeelah. Her co-stars taught her to be professional and carry herself as such no matter how big or small the job is. And one can say that those things are partly why Palmer has had so much success. She had a phenomenal year with notable releases like Nope and Lightyear. And Angela Bassett has been booked and busy as well, between her work on Fox’s 9-1-1 and her return to the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Queen Ramonda in Black Panther: Wakanda Forever. Still, through it all, it's hard not to think about their 2006 collaboration, and I'm glad Palmer helped make it happen.

If you want to relive the spelling bee tension with Akeelah Anderson, you can watch Akeelah and the Bee using an Amazon Prime Video subscription.

Adreon Patterson
News Writer

A boy from Greenwood, South Carolina. CinemaBlend Contributor. An animation enthusiast (anime, US and international films, television). Freelance writer, designer and artist. Lover of music (US and international).