When it was released in August, it stayed number one at the box office for an incredible three weeks in a row, earning $123 million for the feat. That kind of staying power hadn’t been seen since the science fiction and action flick “Inception” last summer.
Part of the appeal of “The Help” was the sassy yet vulnerable maid Minny played by Spencer. Viola Davis starred with her as the other maid. Spencer’s no holds barred approach to life was just what the other maids and some of the wanna be righteous, racist white women they worked for in the early 1960’s Jackson, Mississippi, needed.
Spencer revealed that certain characteristics of Minny were based loosely on her.
“She’s feisty (and I am feisty), but not as feisty as Minny.”
Spencer is friends with Kathryn Stockett, the author of the book, “The Help,” from which the screenplay was based.
However, she had thoughts of the widow of slain civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, on her mind when she was playing the character. Spencer, a native of Alabama, said she considers Mrs. Evers, born in Mississippi, to be a strong woman.
“Her husband was slain on her front doorstep. She didn’t have a trust fund to go to raise her children. She continued on in the way that he would have wanted in the struggle for justice for African Americans. That kind of strength is I think the embodiment of what I wanted Minny to have. So I drew from Miss Myrlie.”
While the movie had major success, there were a few naysayers. A handful of people, most of them bloggers, urged African Americans not to see “The Help.” Many of them hadn’t read the book. They argued that they had a problem with the story line, Black women as maids in the segregated South. To top it off the critics shouted, it was a movie based on a book written by a White woman.
Spencer believes people are entitled to their opinion. But, she admits the criticism hurt her because the movie is so positive on a number of levels.
“There are quite a few African American leading roles in a studio film. We’re not playing prostitutes. We’re playing women with great moral strength. Some of us have flawed characters. (laughs) Myself. So the fact that people were taking such a stance against the fact that we were playing maids is rather hurtful and it’s also a bit of denial. I’m glad the rest of the country didn’t listen and went out and supported the film because they wanted to. It was astonishing to me how we celebrate the debasement of African Americans playing drug dealers with low moral values but these two women who were just trying to make it and make a life for their family and make a difference in their community are not perhaps equally embraced by a few people in the African American community.”
She has been in a number of films, including the action adventure “Spider Man,” and her small role in the drama, “Seven Pounds,” that garnered her lots of critical acclaim. This time Spencer is all but certain to get much more than that.
There is no doubt coveted acting award nominations will be coming her way in 2012. Her performance in “The Help” is sure to get her NAACP Image Award and Academy Award nominations.
But, Spencer is not letting the success of the movie go to her head. She keeps it all in perspective.
“I get to choose now, whereas before the roles chose me.” However, her Minny wit comes through when asked how she would describe herself.
“I’m an over achiever and an under achiever. I think I’m just a walking contrast.”
If you didn’t get to see “The Help” in theatres, check it out on DVD on December 6.