An Offer Angela Couldn't Refuse

02/15/2002 11:00AM

When the producers of CBS's "The Rosa Parks Story" started assembling their cast, they wanted only one actress to play the role of the African-American woman who refused to yield her bus seat to a white woman in 1955 Alabama, a watershed event in the civil rights movement, reports PEOPLE. "I received a call, asking if I would portray her," remembers Oscar-nominated (for her turn as Tina Turner in 1993's "What's Love Got to Do With It") actress Angela Bassett, "and if I did not, they wouldn't make the movie." Her decision, she says, was easy. "I'm so proud and so grateful to her for the sacrifices that she made. (She) caused a victory that I and so many other people enjoy." In the nation's capital this week for a screening of the movie (it airs on Sun., Feb. 24, and PEOPLE TV critic Terry Kelleher says that Bassett imbues her performance, especially as the older Parks, with "grace and dignity"), Bassett told PEOPLE, "There are still many struggles that we need to overcome . . . Every day I have to stand up for my own rights as a woman, as an actress, as someone who wants to be respected. But as I stand up for my rights, I stand up for the rights of others." Basset says, "We have to serve one another when we have the opportunity." A native New Yorker, Bassett, 43, nevertheless felt right at home in Washington, D.C., where a dozen years ago she made the decision to become an actress, after seeing "Of Mice and Men," starring James Earl Jones. "Oh, I always love coming to D.C.," she told PEOPLE about the city where "I fell in love with theater and made the decision that led me down this path."

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