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After years of scene-stealing small acting roles, Octavia Spencer rose to fame with her award-winning performance in 2011's The Help.
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Stockett and Taylor had been friends since childhood, and he bought the film rights to her novel The Help before the book was even published. The Help explores the lives of two very different sets of women in a Southern town in the 1960s—white housewives and their African-American maids. Stockett had drawn inspiration from Spencer for one of the maids, Minny, and Spencer even accompanied Stockett on a book tour. A white writer,
Stockett felt uncomfortable reading the black maids' dialogue and brought Spencer along to read those parts.
When it came time to cast the film, however, Spencer had to audition for the part. The novel had become a best-seller and there was some pressure to cast a famous actress as Minny. But Spencer soon won over any doubters that she was the one for the part. In the film, Emma Stone stars as a young white woman who writes a controversial book based on interviews with "the help." Spencer plays Minny, who works for the town's social pariah (Jessica Chastain) after being fired by her previous employer.
Released in the summer 2011, The Help proved to be a commercial and critical hit. Spencer herself received largely warm reviews and netted several accolades, including a Golden Globe Award in 2012. In her acceptance speech, Spencer quoted the late Martin Luther King, Jr.: "All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance."
She also took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress that February for her work on The Help. Nearly overcome by emotion, Spenser thanked, "my family in Alabama—the state of Alabama. My L.A. family . . . My Help family," in her acceptance speech. She later said that she, "can be some sort of beacon of hope, particularly because I'm not the typical Hollywood beauty."
Spencer hopes that her newfound fame will lead to greater opportunities in front and behind the camera. "I want to do more ensemble movies like I'm doing now . . . I want to work with the best of the best," Spencer told Back Stage. "I'm trying to write now and get things I want to produce now that I'm meeting all of these great producers and people with deep pockets."
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