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Octavia Spencer: the reality of a Black Oscar winner

Gail Choice | 10/3/2012, 5 p.m.

When was the last time you saw 2012 Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (Best Supporting Actress "The Help") on the little or big screen? Could she be a victim of the so-called Oscar curse, especially when it comes to Black actors and actresses? It is said these actors are rarely featured or have leading roles in the top money-making films once they've won the coveted award. The exception to the rule of course is Denzel Washington, who has the star-power to land leading roles.

Outstanding actress Halle Berry won the 2002 Best Actress Oscar in "Monsters Ball," but since then she's mainly starred in independent, or smaller budget Hollywood releases such as "Dark Tide" (2012), where she stars as a woman who literally swims with sharks. Films such as these are not heavy on advertising and often go almost unnoticed by the general movie-going public.

Berry will star in the upcoming film "Cloud Atlas." This film offers an ensemble cast stars some true heavyweights--Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant and Keith David, just to name a few. Here's a brief description of what this sci-fi drama is about: Everything is connected--an 1849 diary of an ocean voyage across the Pacific; letters from a composer to his friend; a thriller about a murder at a nuclear power plant; a farce about a publisher in a nursing home; a rebellious clone in futuristic Korea; and the tale of a tribe living in post-apocalyptic Hawaii, far in the future.

So, what's Octavia Spencer been up to? Apparently, she's been very busy, not in starring roles but as part of ensemble casts in a bevy of films such as "Smashed," where she plays an AA sponsor. This film is now making the film festival circuit.

Now in production is "Fruitvale," written and directed by Oscar winner for Best Actor (2006's "The Last King of Scotland"), Forest Whitaker. This film is based on the true story of Oscar, a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008. Spencer stars as the mother of the slain character. She says she didn't think she was right for the role because she was too angry, but after reading the script again she understood this is a story that had to be told.

In an interview with The Vulture she said, "I realize that these types of occurrences are happening more than our society can handle, and the one way to draw attention to the fact and perhaps make people see their own behavior is to do a film and document it."

Spencer is also featured in the Joon-Ho Bong sci-fi drama "Snow Piercer" about a world covered by ice and snow, and a train full of travelers who struggle to coexist.

And she's featured in "Baggage Claim," the David E. Talbert-directed comedy for Fox Searchlight. Paula Patton stars as a flight attendant who is the oldest unmarried gal in her family and sets her sights on finding a groom before her sister gets hitched in 30 days. Derek Luke will also star.
In a recent interview with The Vulture's Kyle Buchanan, Spencer shared her reality as a Black actress working in Hollywood.

Spencer said, "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! So my challenge and my opportunity now is to take the opportunity to create my own work. I'm fine with that."

It seems that Octavia Spencer has the idea about making it in Hollywood.
Gail can be reached at gail@hollywoodbychoice.com