Our fourth highlighted performer for Black History Month is the incredible Octavia Spencer, one of only two women of color to be nominated for Academy Awards three times (the other being the amazing Viola Davis), and the first Black actress to receive two consecutive nominations. Of her three nominations, Spencer took home the golden guy for Best Supporting Actress for "The Help."
How You Know Her
Spencer's made an impact in film and television for over two decades. Besides playing the unstoppable and fiery Minny Jackson in "The Help," Spencer's roles as pioneering NASA mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in "Hidden Figures" and friend and co-worker Zelda Fuller in the fantastical "Shape of Water" also earned her additional Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress.
She's not just acting in front of the camera and racking up the awards (although she has plenty, including three Screen Actors Guilds Awards, and a Golden Globe Award). Spencer's also the author of the children's book series "Randi Rhoads, Ninja Dective," And she's the executive producer for both critically acclaimed films (2018 Best Picture winner "Green Book") and more genre fare (2019 horror thriller "Ma").
Also, she's a huge Keanu Reeves fan (a genuinely positive and decent force we can also stand behind). Spencer's told the story to more than one media outlet about how Reeves helped her move her car when it broke down in the middle of the street. But her telling of the tale repeatedly only points out her own humble graciousness. She's a class act, and one of our very best actresses.
Their Life So Far
Spencer comes from humble beginnings – raised along with six siblings by her mother, who worked as a maid, after her father died when she was thirteen. She later attended Auburn University, where she majored in English and minored in theater and journalism. After interning on the set of the Whoopi Goldberg film "The Long Walk Home," Spencer decided to make the move to LA to give acting a real shot, encouraged by her friend and future "The Help" director Tate Taylor (who would also direct her in the Chadwick Boseman-starring, James Brown biopic "Get On Up" and thriller "Ma").
Spencer's debut film was Matthew McConaughey's breakthrough hit "A Time to Kill." A quarter century and close to 140 film and tv appearances later, the always-busy acting legend is constantly making waves. Beyond her nominated turns, audiences should check out her performance as Oscar Grant's mother in the heartbreaking "Fruitvale Station," her fun turn in last year's "The Witches" and her role as a teacher in the social drama "Luce."
The Movie to Watch
If we have to recommend only one Octavia Spencer role and film, it has to be "Hidden Figures." The film sheds important light on an essential, critical part of the success of America's '60s NASA space program – the contributions made by Black women mathematicians to help propel our country to the forefront of the Space Race. The actress excels as NASA supervisor / mathematician Dorothy Vaughan, and her story, along with the experiences of the other African American women to succeed against the odds, is essential film fan viewing.
Drama / 2016
Three brilliant African-American women at NASA -- Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) -- serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation's confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.
What's Up Next
The actress will continue to cure some of our pandemic era blues with a couple of fun projects. She's set to co-star with Melissa McCarthy in "Thunder Force," with both women becoming superheroes. And she's said to soon reunite with "The Help" co-star Jessica Chastain in an upcoming holiday comedy.
More Black History Month Highlights: