Maybe it’s purely coincidental that the number one movie in the nation in recent weeks — and one of the top-selling books in America — has been “The Help,” which is about Black maids in Jackson, Miss., in the early 1960s.
Maybe it just so happens that the Census Bureau informed us last week that the overall poverty rate has climbed to 15.1 percent for Americans across the board but to 27 percent for Blacks and to 40 percent for Black children. That goes along, of course, with our already well documented 16.7 percent Black unemployment rate.
Highlighted by “The Help,” we’re forced to recognize a disturbing pattern of Black economic disenfranchisement, complicated by a seemingly worsening series of race-based negative factors.
For example, according to Catalyst, which focuses on women’s employment issues, women comprised 51.5 percent of management, professional and related positions in 2010. However, Black women represented just 5.3 percent of those same positions. A different level of discrimination than that endured by maids in the 60s, but painful, nonetheless, for Black females.
It appears that the book and the movie have created an interesting backdrop, reminding us that even though African Americans may have thought they were suffering when they were relegated to demeaning, menial jobs during the Civil Rights era, the 21st century is, in many ways, proving to be even worse because, in far too many Black households, we have no jobs at all or are significantly underemployed.
I must admit I didn’t actually see the movie version of “The Help.” I don’t go to movies much, any more.
But, hold up! It’s not just me.
According to those who follow such things, move ticket sales actually peaked in 2002, at 1.55 billion, but have fallen off since then to 1.33 billion in 2010. That’s 220 million fewer tickets sold!
Call me crazy if you want, but like so many others I’ve become a slave (there’s that word, again) to media multi-tasking, and I find it increasingly difficult to sit still and narrow my input to a single screen for an extended period of time. Now, for me, a movie is just something that’s on the small screen, in the house, while I’m doing two or three other things.
Stop me if I’m wrong, but don’t you more and more find yourself listening to music while exercising, emailing while web-surfing, and —God forbid — responding to urgent text messages at traffic stops while driving from place to place?
We’re being bombarded, constantly, by all manner of print, video, audio and digital input and we’re learning — for good or bad — to juggle two or three at a time.
Brilliant university researchers are telling us, for example, that the average American is being exposed each day to more than 3,000 advertising messages alone. That’s a lot. But, you know what? It’s starting to feel “real normal.”
And you know what? Two hundred twenty million former movie ticket buyers are starting to feel the same way about movie theaters — due to technology or due to the rapidly rising price of admission, which far outstrips the rate of inflation.
Like I said, I didn’t see the movie or read the book, which was on the New York Times best seller list for an amazing 100 weeks and sold an incredible 5 million copies. The topic, however, based upon what I’ve seen in reviews and on video trailers, does intrigue me.
Apparently, the story included all of the standard Black-white confrontation episodes we’ve learned to expect from Mississippi during that period. The women worked hard, were grossly underpaid and constantly disrespected. None of the content was new or surprising. It was, I’ve been informed, explained in an engaging and telegenic way for movie audiences, who had either forgotten how things used to be for Black maids, or who today may be too young to have ever known in the first place.
Both film critics and predominantly female, mostly older audiences seem to love the movie. It came out of the gate at a respectable $35 million, but wound up only in second place at the box office. However, to the surprise of the entire country, it went on to claim first place for three weeks in a row over the more highly touted and substantially bigger-budgeted “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.”
During the movie’s first week of release, Cinema Score rated “The Help” an A+, a designation that has been given only about twice a year since 2004. And, even in a year when summer movie audiences had fallen to their lowest levels in 14 years, “The Help” grossed $137 million as of last week. That’s with a production budget of a “measly” $25 million, as compared to the $93 million it took to produce “Planet of the Apes.”
Recently, there’s been “Oscar buzz” for the brilliant African-American women who played the two lead roles — especially for Octavia Spencer, who portrayed Minny, the outspoken “sister” who refused to bite her tongue when she felt she was being treated unfairly and who wound up being fired from 19 jobs as a result.
Sounds like a great flick. And if I went to movies at all, I’d probably go to see it.
But, as is the case in most issues, there’s a reason to be cautious about “The Help.” There is, in fact, a temptation to believe that the movie’s message is that — back in the day — Black maids used to be mistreated, they used to be underpaid and, at one time way back in the Civil Rights era, Black female employees used to be the victims of sexual harassment and discrimination in the work place.
If you came away from having read the book or having watched the movie believing any of those things, you need to get another belief.
According to a 2010 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 1.4 million persons employed as “maids and housekeeping cleaners” right now in the United States, 89 percent of whom are female. The hourly wage level for those maids started at $10.17, for an annual wage of $21,150, and the median wage was $9.28, some going as low as $7.68 an hour.
Having maids has also never been a Southern-only phenomenon. To that point, the Florida Courier newspaper recently wrote: “Historians estimate that 70-90 percent of the African- American women who worked before WWII did some type of domestic service for whites.”
Want to be reminded that Black maids caring for well-to-do white families’ children isn’t a relic from the past? Just take a casual stroll on any sunny day through Society Hill or Rittenhouse Square, where the average household income exceeds $322,000.
You’ll note that it’s quite common to see baby carriages containing white toddlers or infants being pushed by Black women. It’s also a rare elderly, disabled white senior citizen who’s not being guided along the sidewalk by a youngish Black female.
“The Help,” during these precarious times of runaway Black poverty and unemployment levels, is also a somber reminder that even marginal, low-paying jobs are now in great demand across the country.
Think I’m kidding?
Another intriguing bit of information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ files on “Maids and Housekeeping Cleaners” is that in 2010, 5 percent of maids and domestics were Asian, 40.8 percent were Latino and just 16.3 percent were Black.
Who would have thought that the day would come when, at the same time, college-educated Black women were holding on “by the skin of their teeth” in Corporate America and Black women without college degrees could no longer be hired at all, even as domestics?
A. Bruce Crawley is president and principal owner of Millennium 3 Management Inc.
LOS ANGELES — While Hollywood advances its 3-D capabilities and other dazzling digital technology, the Academy Awards could be going silent.
Not since the first Oscar ceremony in 1929 has a silent film walked away with the top prize. But the 84th Oscars feature a potential front-runner with virtually no spoken dialogue in “The Artist,” a loving reproduction of the silent era that has emerged as an early favorite among awards watchers.
“Early favorite” is a critical distinction, given that the Feb. 26 Oscars still are months away. Awards fortunes rise and fall, momentum shifts back and forth, and other awards shows help sort out winners from losers on the long path to the Oscars. At this stage, unlike past years when clear front-runners emerged from the outset, every major Oscar category is up for grabs.
Yet “The Artist,” made by a French filmmaker barely known in Hollywood, looks like a solid contender for one of the best-picture slots alongside a lineup of big studio productions such as Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” and the hit literary adaptation “The Help.”
“To be honest with you, that would be totally alien,” said French actor Jean Dujardin, who stars with Berenice Bejo in filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius’ “The Artist.” “I do not think very much about it. Others do that for me. But if there happened to be a nomination, whether for Michel, for Berenice, for me, or for the movie itself, that would be fantastic.”
Here’s a look at the prospects in top categories:
Unlike last year, when eventual winner “The King’s Speech” and runner-up “The Social Network” quickly stood out as the favorites, this season is murky, right down to the number of nominees.
Oscar overseers who doubled the best-picture field from five to 10 nominees three years ago have tweaked the rules again. This time, there will be anywhere from five to 10 nominees, depending on how many films receive at least 5 percent of first-place votes in nominations ballots from the roughly 6,000 academy members.
Great reviews and honors from some of the season’s initial awards have raised the Oscar fortunes of “The Artist,” a black-and-white tale that stars Dujardin as a silent-era star whose career crumbles as talking pictures take over in the late 1920s.
But Spielberg’s “War Horse” is the sort of sprawling, glorious epic that could gallop in to grab the reins as a front-runner. Gorgeously shot, “War Horse” is one of those big, big pictures that always used to dominate the Oscars.
The action follows a resilient horse as it is raised by a British youth, sold into the cavalry during World War I, then passed from side to side amid the battlefields and trenches. The film is based on a children’s book and the stage play it inspired that used life-sized puppets to create the horses.
“I heard about the play and that inspired me to read the book, which I loved,” Spielberg said. “Then I traveled to the west end in London with my wife and actually saw the play, and walked out of that marvelous experience with a deep desire to make the movie.”
Deep desire describes the motivation behind Scorsese’s “Hugo,” another adaptation of a children’s book that allows the director to play with new technology in a ravishing 3-D production while indulging his love for early cinema and devotion for film preservation.
The story of a boy and girl caught up in a mystery involving French silent-film pioneer Georges Melies, “Hugo” also has momentum from early awards announcements that could help launch it into best-picture contention.
With a stellar cast and box-office success already behind it, the crowd-pleasing civil-rights era drama “The Help” is in the mix, along with “Social Network” director David Fincher’s thriller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Among other best-picture possibilities: George Clooney’s family comic drama “The Descendants”; Brad Pitt’s baseball tale “Moneyball” and his family chronicle “The Tree of Life,” directed by Terrence Malick; Woody Allen’s romantic fantasy “Midnight in Paris”; Clint Eastwood’s J. Edgar Hoover biopic “J. Edgar”; and Gary Oldman’s espionage saga “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
Tinker, tailor, soldier, Oscar winner? Oldman — that scary guy who played Sid Vicious, Lee Harvey Oswald and Dracula in younger days and now has become an avuncular presence as Harry Potter’s godfather or Batman’s police ally — surprisingly has zero Oscar nominations to his credit.
As John le Carre’s wily, aloof George Smiley in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” Oldman finally could get some Oscar respect for a performance that’s a marvel of stillness and subtlety.
“I’m proud of the work. I’m proud of the movie,” Oldman said. “If it was to happen, I can’t think of a better project for it to happen with. So, we shall see.”
Along with Dujardin for “The Artist,” other contenders include: Leonardo DiCaprio as FBI boss Hoover in “J. Edgar”; Michael Fassbender as a sex addict in “Shame”; Clooney as a neglectful dad trying to get his act straight in “The Descendants”; Pitt as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane in “Moneyball”; Michael Shannon as a man beset with apocalyptic visions in “Take Shelter”; Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a cancer patient in “50/50”; Daniel Craig as a journalist investigating old serial slayings in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”; and Ryan Gosling for two films, as a getaway driver in “Drive” and a White House candidate’s aide in “The Ides of March.”
Dressing like a man helped Hilary Swank take home her first Oscar. Can five-time nominee Glenn Close finally claim a statue for her anguished role as a woman disguising herself as a male butler to survive hard times in the 19th-century Irish drama “Albert Nobbs”?
Close isn’t counting on anything.
“I’ve gone through my whole career not believing anything’s going to happen until it happens,” Close said. “I don’’t expect anything. I think, just do your work, and that’s what you’ve got.”
The competition is fierce, the lineup loaded with outstanding performances, among them two-time Oscar winner and acting nominations record-holder Meryl Streep’s turn as Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.” Michelle Williams simply embodies Marilyn Monroe in “My Week with Marilyn.” And while Viola Davis has the edge over her “The Help” co-star Emma Stone, they deliver so well that both could end up nominated.
Also in the running: Tilda Swinton as a grief-stricken woman in “We Need to Talk About Kevin”; Rooney Mara as an emotionally damaged computer hacker in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”; Kirsten Dunst as a manic depressive facing Earth’s doomsday in “Melancholia”; Charlize Theron as a writer scheming to steal back her old boyfriend in “Young Adult”; and Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman trying to escape a cult in “Martha Marcy May Marlene.”
Christopher Plummer went his long career without a nomination until two years ago, when he made the Oscar short list for “The Last Station.” He didn’t win, but this could be his time for “Beginners,” in which he plays an ailing elderly dad who comes out as gay.
It doesn’t hurt Plummer’s chances that he also delivers a nice turn as a family patriarch in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”
Other prospects include: Albert Brooks as a gregarious gangster in “Drive”; Jonah Hill as a number-crunching genius in “Moneyball”; Nick Nolte as a fighter’s estranged dad in “Warrior”; Jim Broadbent as Thatcher’s hubby in “The Iron Lady”; Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier in “My Week with Marilyn”; Pitt as a domineering father in “The Tree of Life”; Patton Oswalt as Theron’s geeky new pal in “Young Adult”; Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway in “Midnight in Paris”; and both Clooney as a presidential candidate and Philip Seymour Hoffman as his top aide in “The Ides of March.”
“The Help” could practically fill out this category by itself, with great performances from Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jessica Chastain and Sissy Spacek.
A fresh face who’s suddenly everywhere, Chastain also delivered strong performances in “The Tree of Life,” “Take Shelter,” “The Debt” and “Coriolanus.” The latter features an excellent turn by Vanessa Redgrave, who also has a shot as Queen Elizabeth I in “Anonymous.”
Along with Bejo as a rising film star in “The Artist,” contenders include: Judi Dench as Hoover’s doting mother in “J. Edgar”; Shailene Woodley as a troublesome daughter in “The Descendants”; Janet McTeer as a cross-dressing laborer in “Albert Nobbs”; Carey Mulligan as a sex addict’s unstable sister in “Shame”; Emily Watson as a salt-of-the-earth farm woman in “War Horse”; and Melissa McCarthy as a crude but caring member of the wedding in “Bridesmaids.”
Past winners Spielberg for “War Horse,” Scorsese for “Hugo,” Allen for “Midnight in Paris” and Eastwood for “J. Edgar” are in the running, along with previous nominees Fincher for “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Malick for “The Tree of Life,” Alexander Payne for “The Descendants” and Bennett Miller for “Moneyball.”
Along with Hazanavicius for “The Artist,” newcomers to the directing field could include Tate Taylor for “The Help” and Tomas Alfredson for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.”
The Oscar nominations aren’t released until Jan. 24, and momentum will ebb and flow amid an onslaught of lesser awards announcements that come first. — (AP)
Esteemed actor Morgan Freeman will receive the Cecil B. DeMille Award for his “outstanding contribution to the entertainment field” when the 69th Golden Globe Awards air at 8 p.m., Sunday, January 15 on NBC.
Edgy and outrageous host Ricky Gervais will return for his third stint as host of the annual awards show honoring achievement in film and television, which will broadcast live from the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. Gervais ruffled a few feathers at last year’s presentation, and it was rumored that he would be banned from hosting future shows. However, the bawdy Brit promised that his return would be accompanied by his trademark candor.
“They’ve got to know I’m going to do the same thing again,” Gervais told the BBC. “It’s a huge world audience and an amazing opportunity to end your career in one fell swoop. That’s all I do this year — things that could possibly end my career.”
The controversial feature film, “The Help,” leads the field of nominations, including Best Motion Picture – Drama and Viola Davis for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama, as well as Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture. The song “Living Proof” from “The Help,” earned a nomination for Mary J. Blige, Thomas Newman, Harvey Mason Jr. and Damon Thomas in the category of Best Original Song – Motion Picture. In addition, Idris Elba (“Luther”) received a nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television.
I still have not gone to see the movie, “The Help.” I read the book and that was enough for me. I read a book where a white woman fully engaged herself in cultural appropriation, putting 21st century voices into 1960s throats. Which black women, in 1960, would have said that Black men left their families like trash by the side of the road? Maybe a 21st century feminist would have voiced such sentiments, but a ’60s sister? Hardly.
Speaking of hardly, my opinion hardly matters. There is rich discussion among African-American women about the movie, the book and the reality. I just want to remind my sisters that in 1940, 70 percent of us were maids or private household workers. I want to remind us that even those of us who had advanced degrees worked some time as a maid. I want folks to remember the scene in “The Color Purple” where Oprah’s character was incarcerated because she had the dignity to decline private household work. Many Black women did “days work” because they needed to make a living. Many were humiliated into doing days work to keep the peace in their household or community. In other words, no matter who you were, you should still serve.
My opinions about days work are rooted in my past, both as a daughter and as a researcher. My mom, Proteone Malveaux, is a retired social worker. She worked with organizations that organized private household workers. As a kid, I stuffed envelopes for a woman named Helen Little, who led the National Welfare Rights Association in San Francisco. Women like Mrs. Little and my mom were dedicated to ensuring that private household workers got fair pay, vacations and dignity of work conditions. Too many folk, back in the day, thought that used clothes or leftover food were a substitute for a living wage.
When I moved to Boston, I somehow connected with a woman who was doing work on training private household workers. There was an irony. The federal government had actually funded her organization to train maids, and I thought the best way to train them was to move them out of household work. Somehow, in graduate school, my mentor Dr. Phyllis Wallace, encouraged me to write about my experiences, and about the data that undergirded them. It was interesting to explore the facts, the fiction and the many ways Black women have been pushed into the role of nurturing others and the stereotypes this has engendered. So help me, somebody, if I haven’t rushed to see “The Help.”
I’d rather see a movie about the National Domestic Workers Union, founded by Dorothy Lee Bolden in 1968. Or I’d rather see Mrs. Little featured in a film about the National Welfare Rights Organization. Instead, I’m clapping for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer who garnered Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress accolades from the Screen Actors Guild. Davis is a contender for an Oscar, and in many ways, that’s a good thing.
Also a bad thing. Whenever Black folks win Oscars it’s because they hark back to stereotypes, letting white folks wish they were in the land of cotton. A sister is not going to win an Oscar (never mind even being casted in a role) as a scientist, leader, dreamer, or thinker. Where is the Coretta Scott King film, which ought to be most compelling? Or, in reality TV world, where is the Michelle Obama film? In order to win recognition we have to be subservient. We have to serve. Help me somebody.
When I made critical comments about the book, “The Help” I was flooded with email comments from Bennett alums who said that I should not be critical of a film that “lifted up” Black women. For a moment I was stunned, and even a bit chastened. Then I realized that this work, this private household work, is private, personal, and even sad. I remember my grandmother, the Tuskegee graduate, taking me to see “her white folks” in Sausalito, California, and proudly bragging to them that I was a smart girl who was going to college. And while time may have tinted the memory, I remember the smirking white woman who gave me a twenty dollar bill for my studies. I was about 13, a fiery revolutionary, and I wanted to crumple the bill and throw it back in the woman’s face. My grandmother kicked me under the table, and I mumbled a thank you. Now, with folk that help me manage my life, I try to never replicate that moment for anyone else. When work is fairly paid for, it can be good and honorable work. But we have to work at it, at the relationship, at the ties that bind.
We are intertwined, we women who manage households with help, and the folk who help us. We must manage those who help us while maintaining their dignity. We must understand the many ways we are connected, and how we cannot survive without each other. We must have a conversation about help, helping, work and quality of life. Helping is part of Black women’s history and heritage. And it is also, and always, a dilemma. Help me, somebody. — (NNPA)
Dr. Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina.
LOS ANGELES — The Deep South drama "The Help" cleaned up with four nominations Wednesday for the Screen Actors Guild Awards, among them honors for Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer.
The adaptation of the best-selling novel also was nominated for best ensemble cast, along with the silent film "The Artist," the wedding comedy "Bridesmaids," the family drama "The Descendants" and the romantic fantasy "Midnight in Paris."
The nominations are among the first major honors on the long road to the Feb. 26 Academy Awards. The SAG list of contenders and Golden Globe nominees that will be announced Thursday help sort out favorites from also-rans for Oscar voters, whose nominations come out Jan. 24.
Davis is up for best actress and Spencer for supporting actress as black maids who agree to share stories of their tough lives with an aspiring white writer at the start of the civil-rights movement in 1960s Mississippi. Chastain also was nominated for supporting actress as Spencer's lonely, needy new boss.
"The Artist" ran second with three nominations, including a best-actor honor for Jean Dujardin as a silent star falling from grace amid the advent of talking pictures and supporting actress for Berenice Bejo, who plays a rising sound-era movie star.
Along with Davis, best-actress contenders are Glenn Close as a woman disguising herself as a male butler in 19th-century Ireland in "Albert Nobbs"; Meryl Streep as British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady"; Tilda Swinton as a grief-stricken woman coping with her son's horrible deeds in "We Need to Talk About Kevin"; and Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in "My Week With Marilyn."
Joining Dujardin in the best-actor category are Demian Bichir as a hard-working illegal immigrant father in "A Better Life"; George Clooney as a neglectful dad tending his two daughters in "The Descendants"; Leonardo DiCaprio as FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover in "J. Edgar"; and Brad Pitt as Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane in "Moneyball."
"Albert Nobbs" star Close was a double nominee, picking up a best-actress honor for a TV drama series for "Damages." Close's co-star Janet McTeer was nominated for supporting actress as a cross-dressing laborer in "Albert Nobbs."
Overlooked for best actor was Gary Oldman, whose performance in the espionage saga "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" has been billed by critics as one of the best in his career.
Also snubbed was Michael Fassbender for his daring role in the sex-addict drama "Shame" and Ryan Gosling for two acclaimed performances in the action tale "Drive" and the political drama "The Ides of March."
Several Oscar best-picture prospects will sit out the SAG ceremony, including Steven Spielberg's "War Horse" and Martin Scorsese's "Hugo," but those are epic tales whose impact comes more from their scope than their performances.
Another Oscar potential that missed out at SAG was David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," which features a blistering break-out performance by Rooney Mara.
"Bridesmaids" was a rare mainstream comedy that has earned critical respect. Along with its ensemble nomination, the film earned a supporting-actress slot for Melissa McCarthy as a crude but caring member of the wedding.
Missing out in the supporting-actress category was Clooney's young "Descendants" co-star Shailene Woodley, who delivers a breakout performance as a troublesome teen.
Up for supporting actor are Kenneth Branagh as Laurence Olivier in "My Week With Marilyn"; Armie Hammer as Hoover's FBI colleague and soul mate in "J. Edgar"; Jonah Hill as an economics whiz kid in "Moneyball"; Nick Nolte as a bad dad trying to make amends in "Warrior"; and Christopher Plummer as an elderly, ailing father who announces he's gay in "Beginners."
Betty White, the guild's lifetime-achievement award winner two years ago, had two TV nominations: comedy-series actress for "Hot in Cleveland" and "Hallmark Hall of Fame: The Lost Valentine."
"Modern Family" led the TV side with five nominations, including best comedy ensemble and individual honors for Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Eric Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara.
SAG also honors unsung action players with a stunt ensemble prize. The film stunt contenders are "The Adjustment Bureau," ''Cowboys & Aliens," ''Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1," ''Transformers: Dark of the Moon" and "X-Men: First Class."
TV stunt nominees are "Dexter," ''Game of Thrones," ''Southland," ''Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" and "True Blood."
The 18th annual SAG Awards will be presented Jan. 29. -- (AP)
LOS ANGELES — Octavia Spencer inspired her formidable character in "The Help," but the actress turned into a softy Sunday as she accepted an Oscar for the role.
"Oh, thank you," a tearful Spencer said as many in the audience rose to their feet. She expressed gratitude to her family, her colleagues from "The Help" and her native "state of Alabama" as she received the best supporting actress trophy.
The actress played tart-tongued maid Minny Jackson in the movie, which depicted Southern life as the 1960s civil rights movement unfolded. The film is based on Kathryn Stockett's best-selling novel "The Help," and the author drew on her friendship with Spencer in creating Minny.
The two were introduced by a mutual pal, "The Help" writer-director Tate Taylor.
After the show, Spencer said her plans included "a quarter of a glass of Champagne" and celebrating with her cast mates.
"I'm just going to live in this moment because it's never happened, and Lord knows it may never happen again," she said.
Spencer saluted her co-stars, including fellow nominees Viola Davis and Jessica Chastain, and the working relationship they shared: "We just left our egos at the door and worked together as one beautiful unit. ... It was an award-winning cast," she said.
Asked about what she would tell girls who might want to follow in her footsteps, Spencer made an indirect reference to what she had earlier called her "zaftig" physique.
"I hope that in some way I can be some sort of beacon of hope, particularly because I'm not the typical Hollywood beauty," she said — then jokingly chastised the media for not contradicting her, saying, "I hear crickets" in the room.
Spencer is one of just a half-dozen black actresses to have won an Oscar in the awards' 84-year history. In the supporting actress category, Hattie McDaniel won for "Gone with the Wind," Whoopi Goldberg for "Ghost," Jennifer Hudson for "Dreamgirls," and Mo'Nique for "Precious," while Halle Berry won best actress for "Monster's Ball."
Spencer's role as a domestic worker in "The Help," which included baking a pie aimed at vengeance, was a career change of pace.
After playing a nurse in the film "A Time to Kill," Spencer was cast as a nurse in several different TV series including "City of Angels" and "Chicago Hope," and played the same medical role in films including "Halloween II" and "Seven Pounds."
Spencer, 39, who was favored to win the Oscar, was composed enough to enjoy the company of Christian Bale, who presented the award to her.
"Thank you, academy, for putting me with the hottest guy in the room," she said.
She also thanked Steven Spielberg for "changing my life." Spielberg's DreamWorks is the studio behind "The Help." -- (AP)
“I’m just going to live in this moment because it’s never happened before, and Lord knows it may never happen again.” Octavia Spencer, 2012 Academy Award — Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Octavia Spencer brought the gilded audience at Hollywood’s Kodak Theater to its feet Sunday night as she tearfully accepted the Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting role for her portrayal of Minny Jackson, a proud, outspoken maid in the Oscar-nominated movie, “The Help.” Ms. Spencer, whose break-out role in “The Help,” comes after years of mostly small parts in dozens of films, was overwhelmed with gratitude for the honor and thanked Steven Spielberg, her home state of Alabama and her fellow cast members, including Viola Davis who was nominated for Best Actress.
Spencer becomes only the 13th African American to win an acting Oscar in the 84-year history of the Academy Awards and just the sixth Black woman since Hattie McDaniel took home the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1940 for her role in “Gone with the Wind.” We congratulate Octavia Spencer for her achievement. Her performance in “The Help” sheds new light on what life was like for Black women domestics in the South during the dawning days of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. The dignity and strength of the characters she and Viola Davis portray give new perspective to the unique struggles of African-American women, and demonstrate the overwhelming power of faith, community and sisterhood.
We are also encouraged by the Academy Award winning success of previous Black women actors, including Hattie McDaniel, Halle Berry, Mo’Nique, Jennifer Hudson and Whoopi Goldberg, who have broken the Oscar color and gender barriers. But, this small sorority of Black women Oscar winners makes it clear that Hollywood has a long way to go in diversifying the content of its story-lines as well as the color of its characters, especially for African-American women. It might help if the Academy diversified its own ranks. More than 90 percent of its members are white; more than 75 percent are male.
While there have been several movies in recent years like “Red Tails,” “Hotel Rwanda,” “Malcolm X,” “Glory” and “Invictus” (about the life of Nelson Mandela), that cast Black men in heroic roles, there have been few films about Black women heroines.
USA Today film critic, Bill Goodykoontz, pointed out in a recent column that, “People of color too often find only narrow aspects of their lives and history represented in mainstream film, if represented at all.” James Braxton Peterson, director of Africana Studies at Lehigh University added, “While we must applaud the outstanding performances by Ms. Davis and Ms. Spencer, we cannot ignore the fact that once again African Americans are being recognized in Hollywood for playing limited … roles.”
This fact was not lost on Octavia Spencer who remarked after accepting her award, “I hope it’s the hallmark of more for young, aspiring actresses of color, and by color, I don’t mean just African American. I mean Indian, Native American, Latin American, Asian American. I hope that in some way I can be some sort of beacon of hope.…” We applaud Ms. Spencer for her Academy Award, and we echo her desire that Hollywood create more quality roles for deserving Black actors and actresses. — (NNPA)
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.