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Alabama Born, Auburn Educated Octavia Spencer Wins Golden Globe

Posted: Jan 16, 2012

The 2011 fall issue of the Auburn University alumni magazine featured a stunning photo of Octavia Spencer on the cover, not as Minny, the feisty maid in Tate Taylor's movie of Kathryn Stockett's The Help, but as Octavia Spencer, celebrated actress and a possible candidate for an Oscar this year.

Spencer, a 1994 graduate of Auburn University, has the deep south in her blood.

Last night at the 2012 Golden Globe Awards, Octavia Spencer won a Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Minny in The Help.  In her acceptance speech, Spencer said " With regard to domestics in this country now and then, I think Dr. King said it best: all labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance. And I thank you for recognizing that with our film."

Columnist Mike Cidoni Lennox discusses how Octavia's Spencer's southern ties helped shape the character of Minny in The Help. Lennox writes that there has been plenty written about how actress Octavia Spencer inspired the character of the sullen but sometimes side-splitting maid Minny Jackson in the novel and in the movie..

Spencer is the longtime friend of the film's writer-director, Tate Taylor, who is a childhood friend of author and fellow Mississippian Kathryn Stockett. Taylor introduced the two women in the mid '90s, and Spencer's " brass and class" became the essence of Minny.

Lennox observes that even though the film marks Taylor's first big studio job, he practically "demanded" the casting of Spencer, making for a rarity: the person inspiring a novel's major character actually playing her on the screen. Taylor met Spencer in 1996 when they were both production assistants on the film A Time to Kill. They became friends, and, in New Orleans several years later, Spencer met Taylor's childhood friend, Kathryn Stockett

Entertainment Weekly recently talked to Viola Davis (who plays Aibilene) and Octavia Spencer. EW writes, "However beloved Stockett’s book may be, the subject of race — and of Hollywood’s complicated history with it — still hits a raw nerve in many circles. In fact, the film’s stars Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer often find themselves in the strange and unsettling position of having to defend their decision to play Aibileen and Minny, the proud maids at the heart of Stockett’s novel. 'That’s what people bristle at: the maids,' Davis says in a no-holds-barred interview. 'I’ve played lawyers and doctors who were less explored and more of an archeytype than these maids.' "

Octavia Spencer. who knows a thing or two about race having grown up in Montomery, Alabama, is even more emphatic saying "the question should not be 'Why is Viola Davis playing a maid in 2011?'  I think it should be "Viola Davis plays a maid and she gives the f—ing performance of her life.'" 

Ellen Sterling of the Huffington Post has this to say about Octavia Spencer: "Born in Montgomery, Alabama in 1972, Spencer may be best known to devotees of Ugly Betty as Constance Grady, the IMS agent who stalked Betty's father. Her film resume is a varied one, taking in everything from the deliciously demented Bad Santa, lots of TV and other movies. But, she says, The Help was especially close to her heart."

Even though Spencer is from the part of the country that was at the epicenter of the civil rights storm, Spencer says, "I'm of a generation after the civil rights movement." She adds that her mother told her that she must know and she must be educated. "My mother was very progressive in that she never told us what to think." Spencer added that seeing the documentary series Eyes On the Prize, and learning about that time, she realized just how good she had it.

Octavia Spencer's mom must be very proud of her daughter today as the winner of a Golden Globe for her role as Minny, and she may have cause to be even prouder when the Academy Award winners are announced next month.

How did Spencer feel after the awards ceremony was over?

“I thought I was going to party all night but I don’t have it in me, Spencer said. " I just want to go home, wash my face, de-Spanx." . A woman after my own heart, she concluded, “I got to take them off. I’m triple Spanxed tonight… I just want to pop them off!”

----Penne J. Laubenthal

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