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Octavia Spencer Talks Illusory Post-Oscar Career Bump + Creating Her Own Projects

Octavia Spencer Talks Illusory Post-Oscar Career Bump + Creating Her Own Projects

A feature I’m planning for to post during Oscar season is a look at if/how winning (and even being nominated for) an Oscar has affected the careers of black actors and actresses.

I probably won’t get to that for a few months, but THIS Vulture interview with Octavia Spencer (posted this afternoon) as she does press for Smashed (a movie she’s co-starring in, which screened at TIFF last week, and will be released in USA theaters on October 12), helps answer that question for one of the few actresses on my list.

Of course, Spencer won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in last year’s polarizing period drama, and box office smash, The Help, and after that win, some of the conversation that followed wondered what impact, if any, it would have on her career as a black actress, in an industry where work for black actresses isn’t exactly overflowing.

Since her Oscar win, she’s been a busy bee it seems, from a starring role in Diablo Cody’s still-untitled directing debut, to a project I’m really looking forward to, Joon-ho Bong’s thriller Snowpiercer (he directed the awesome South Korean creature feature The Host), to the Forest Whitaker-producer Oscar Grant project, Fruitvale, as well as the feature film adaptation of David E. Talbert’s Baggage Claim, and the adaptation of Del Shores’ 2003 critically-acclaimed, award-winning play titled The Trials and Tribulations of a Trailer Trash Housewife, titled Blues For Willadean.

BUT, as Spencer notes in the Vulture interview, when asked about her career receiving an Oscar bump, she reveals that she was cast in most of these projects before she won the Oscar for The Help; in fact, for at least one of them, Smashed, she says she booked the role before The Help was even released, even though the film doesn’t hit theaters for another month.

No, the reality for me was that I thought my phone would be ringing a lot, and it wasn’t. And this project came along, and it was a great film, and it was [prior to] the success of The Help. Now, looking back, they get huge kudos from me. So no, because my phone wasn’t ringing off the hook, I didn’t feel like anything was changing.

As for the other projects, here’s what she said:

Well, the funny is thing is that I got the Diablo Cody movie and I got Snow Piercer before I got any nominations, so I knew I had both of those projects in November.

Blues For Willadean is based on a 2003 play that she co-starred in, so this was years before I think most of us knew who Octavia Spencer was, and most of the play’s starring cast, played the same roles in the film, and she was one of them.

The last 2 projects, Baggage Claim and Fruitvale, were both post-Oscar gets.

However, Spencer does say that the Oscar win was “a needle-mover” – specifically, it gets her meetings that she wouldn’t have been invited to if she didn’t win the Oscar. But she notes that, at this point, it hasn’t quite translated to job offers, and that her phone hasn’t exactly been ringing off the hook.

To that, she adds…

I don’t want to sound as if [I’m complaining]. The reality is that there are so few roles out there for women and for women of color, and I’m a character actor, this I know. And I’m getting to see more of the roles that are out there, but there aren’t many. And zilch have been studio movies. Zilch.

I’m not sure if she’s referring to the roles that are “out there,” when she says “zilch have been studio movies,” or if she’s referring to the roles that she’s booked thus far, since The Help. Baggage Claim is a Fox Searchlight-backed project, so that’s definitely a studio movie. Unless she booked that before her Oscar as well; but I have no information to confirm that. She doesn’t include it when she talks about movies she booked before The Help, or before Oscar.

But I understand the overall point she’s making about the absence of roles for women of color, especially at the studio level. And to combat that, she added this:

So my challenge and my opportunity now is to take the opportunity to create my own work. I’m fine with that.

Music to my ears. This is what many of us continue to encourage – creating your own work. Easier said than done, obviously, but she’s in a good position right now, with some steam behind her, and notoriety that she can take advantage of – just like Viola Davis formed her own production company, and has been developing projects for herself to star in. 

I’m looking forward to reading about projects Spencer is developing for herself.

You can check out the full Vulture interview HERE.

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