Angela Bassett on Heart-Disease Advocacy: "I Wanted a Voice and I Wanted to Empower Others"

Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Woman's Day

The 'Black Panther' actress and 'Grey’s Anatomy' star Chandra Wilson were among the four individuals and groups honored at the 16th annual 'Woman's Day' Red Dress Awards.

Black Panther and 9-1-1 star Angela Bassett was honored along with Grey’s Anatomy actress Chandra Wilson at the 16th annual Woman’s Day Red Dress Awards in New York on Tuesday night.

Author, comedian and actress Ali Wentworth served as host for the ceremony, which celebrated four honorees' philanthropic and professional efforts to increase awareness about heart-related issues.

“We are passionate,” Wentworth told the crowd. “Passionate about healing women’s hearts. Passionate about protecting our mothers, our sisters, our daughters, friends and ourselves.”

Susan Spencer, Woman’s Day editor in chief, described the award recipients as advocates and role models crucial to moving forward efforts around preventing and treating heart disease, the leading cause of death among women. 

Bassett was awarded for using her platforms as an activist and artist to promote education around cardiovascular diseases. During the event, the actress, director and executive producer said she got into advocacy because she "wanted a voice, and I wanted to empower others to take control of their health." Over the last several years, Bassett has been a guest speaker for women’s groups and the American Heart Association's flagship scientific sessions, in addition to supporting the "For Your Sweetheart" and "Go Red For Women" campaigns. 

During the ceremony, Bassett discussed her passion for health education and emphasized the link between type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, the latter of which she said is the number one cause of death and major disability for those with type 2 diabetes. At one point during her speech, Bassett emotionally addressed how losing her diabetic mother to heart disease served as a “wake-up call.”

“Once you’ve been affected by something personally, you start thinking about the experience of others who have gone through similar things. There’s a huge group of us who have had our lives changed by these connections. One in three, in fact,” Bassett said. “That's a third of our mothers, a third of our sisters, a third of our girlfriends."

Woman's Day honored Wilson for her role in helping craft and play one of Dr. Miranda Bailey's storylines during the prior season of Grey’s Anatomy. In “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which aired in February 2018, Bailey reported the symptoms of a heart attack to a medical professional who dismissed her concerns as mental or emotional stress. After fighting to get tests performed, Bailey’s heart issue was ultimately identified and her life saved.

Disparities in the way health care providers respond to women’s heart issues was a major theme of the night, and Wilson’s role in bringing that to television was lauded by Spencer, who presented Wilson with her award.

As Wilson accepted, she recounted hearing stories about women who had gone to the emergency room and had their own experiences with heart stress dismissed. Some were sent home, Wilson said, resulting in their deaths.

“But I've also heard about woman inspired into self-advocacy and not leaving that emergency room or doctor’s office before being taken seriously,” Wilson said. “So if Miranda Bailey's story ends up being that she encouraged women to stand strong in the fact that we know our own bodies, and we're therefore inspired to advocate more effectively for our heart health, then that's a great legacy she will have left the world for being a TV character.”

Today show co-anchor Hoda Kotb and All My Children star Susan Lucci, who had a heart attack last October, were among the event’s other high-profile presenters alongside three musical acts, including Ann Wilson of Heart.

The speeches from Bassett, Wilson and Lucci all highlighted the way education, through communication, news and entertainment media, can be crucial to lowering rates of heart disease among women. Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Ali Wentworth shared how comedy can not only help women be more open to discussions about their heart health, but also put those conversations into the spotlight.

“I feel like comedy is a big icebreaker, but also it does bring people together,” Wentworth told THR. “And I think women's heart disease is something that shouldn't be pushed away as much as it is. So no matter who it is, when [comedians] talk about women's health in a funny way, it is great.”