In 1985, Bassett made her first television appearance as a prostitute in the TV movie Doubletake. She made her film debut as a news reporter in F/X (1986), for which she was required to join the Screen Actors Guild (SAG). Bassett moved to Los Angeles in 1988 for more acting jobs and gained recognition in the films Boyz n the Hood (1991) and Malcolm X (1992). For her portrayal of Betty Shabazz, she earned an Image Award. Despite the award, the movie was not entirely given positive reception, being referred to by critics as failing to "capture" the rage of Malcolm X's autobiography. During production of Malcolm X, Spike Lee showed Bassett a tape of the exact moment when Malcolm X was shot during his assassination, since they would be filming the scene. Bassett called the recording "haunting", but noted that after listening, she was "able to grab hold of the pain and re-create the scene. " Bassett felt it was important for her to get the assassination scene correct, and wondered how Betty "found the strength to keep going, to raise her family, to educate, to sustain them. " Malcolm X was released on November 18, 1992.
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