Saturday, April 11, 2015

Learn from Octavia Spencer

RANDI RHODES, NINJA DETECTIVE.  That's the name of the literary character created by Oscar-winning actress, Octavia Spencer.  In addition to acting, she also writes books for young readers.  She's currently promoting her new book.
For the book series, Ms. Spencer created positive African-American and Latino male characters that the boys can connect to and Randi is a strong, red-headed female.
I love Octavia Spencer.  Her career can teach us a thing or two about perseverance.  On Friday, I heard the Alabama native on a local New York City talk radio show.  I learned that she decided acting was for her when she worked as a production assistant on a 1990 movie.  The movie being shot on location was The Long Walk Home, a Civil Rights drama set in 1955 Alabama during boycotts headed by Martin Luther King, Jr.  The movie starred Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek.
In 1996, Octavia Spencer started her acting career with bit parts in movies and on TV.  She said that she played so many nurses that she could probably perform surgery.  Did you see Spider-Man starring Tobey Maguire in 2002?  Well, if you watch it again, pay attention to the first 20 minutes.  You will see two bit players who are stars today.  One played a school cafeteria bully to Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker.  Joe Manganiello went on to play the muscle hunk wolfman on HBO's True Blood.  And he stripped off his clothes with Channing Tatum in the hit movie, Magic Mike.  When Peter Parker wants to be a contestant in a wrestling match, he has to check-in.  The other bit player, the "Check-in Girl," is played by Octavia Spencer.  I think she only had about two lines.

In 2011, we saw Octavia Spencer play Minnie the feisty maid in The Help.  Like The Long Walk Home, this was also a Civil Rights era drama involving black women who worked as domestics.  The Help took place in the Deep South of the early 1960s.

In this hit 2011 movie, she shared screen time with Sissy Spacek, star of 1990's The Long Walk Home.

When Octavia Spencer was a production assistant for that 1990 film, Whoopi Goldberg had made Hollywood history.  At the time, she was one of the few black women to have a Best Actress Oscar nomination to her credit.  It came for 1985's The Color Purple.  She won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1990's Ghost.  That made Whoopi the second black woman in 50 years to win the Oscar in that category.  The first was the great and groundbreaking Hattie McDaniel, the Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner for 1939's Gone With The Wind.

For The Help, Octavia Spencer would also become one of the few African-American women to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.  Just like Whoopi Goldberg and Hattie McDaniel before her.
During her interview on WNYC's The Leonard Lopate Show, he asked her if she was upset that her 2013 drama, Fruitvale Station, did not get any Oscar nominations.  It was hailed at the Cannes Film Festival and American critics joined in the praise.  Named after a mass transit stop in the San Francisco area where an innocent young black man was shot and killed by a cop, the film is based on real people and incidents.  It's a powerful film that is so achingly relevant today.  Look at the current cover of TIME Magazine.
Spencer was not surprised at the lack of Oscar nominations for Fruitvale Station because it had no Oscar campaign.  Personally, I wish it did have a campaign.  It was worthy of a Best Picture nomination and her performance as the slain young man's mother in Oakland, California matched the quality of her work in The Help.  Octavia Spencer is excellent as the devoted working class mother.  I was hoping the performance would bring her another Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination.


I saw Fruitvale Station at a cineplex in San Francisco during its theatrical run.  There were black and white people in tears at the end of the movie.  You should see it.

If you want to hear Octavia Spencer talk about her book and her career, log onto to WNYC's website and go into the Menu section up top.  Then click onto the Shows section and scroll down to find The Leonard Lopate Show.  Do all that after you go here:  WNYC.org.

In the interview, the actress/writer mentions that one of her dreams is to make a movie with Whoopi Goldberg.  That would be a full-circle moment for the Oscar-winning former production assistant.







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