Oscars Made Strides, But Octavia Spencer Wants More Growth

Spencer is one of six black actors up for an Academy Award at Sunday's ceremony

Even though Octavia Spencer is pleased with the record number of blacks nominated for acting Oscars this year, she's still disappointed by the lack of recognition for other people of color.

"Diversity doesn't mean just black," Spencer said in a recent phone interview to promote her new film, "The Shack," which comes out March 3. "I'm excited that more black people are being recognized. That's what I would like to see arrive for other people of color, because they are so valued and underserved. I think when we ask the public, the paying public, to support films that don't portray them on-screen, that's hypocrisy."

Spencer is one of six black actors up for an Academy Award at Sunday's ceremony. Dev Patel, who is of Asian descent, is nominated for best actor. Spencer is nominated for her role in "Hidden Figures," which is nominated for best picture.

The diverse slate is a far cry from the past two years, when all-white acting nominees led to the social media hashtag #OscarsSoWhite and a national conversation on race in Hollywood. It also compelled Cheryl Boone Isaacs, the president of The Academy, to implement a plan restructuring the organization's membership to try and make it more reflective of women and minorities.

These days, Spencer has her own production company and believes she could be one of Hollywood's "biggest producers" in the near future. Spencer wants to create a lane for women and people of color to share their untold stories in film, much like "Hidden Figures." She played the role of Dorothy Vaughn, a pioneering black mathematician who worked at NASA. When she won the Academy Award six years ago for best supporting actress, she played a maid in "The Help."

"We are multifaceted people," said Spencer. "Yes, women of color served in people's kitchens and cleaned people's houses. But there are African-American doctors, scientists and lawyers. ... Those are the types of stories that we also want to see presented in film."

Stories with a historical perspective resonate with her the most. She's developing a series about entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker, one of the first female millionaires in the United States (she will also star in it), and co-producing a HBO series about the Jonestown Massacre in Guyana.

The actress said her production company won't be limited to telling black stories.

"If it's a white story that hasn't been told, it'll be told," she said. "If it's a story about a Latin American, Asian-American, (I'll) tend to tell it."

While Spencer prepares for the Oscars on Sunday, she also has the release of "The Shack" on the horizon. She plays God in the film adaptation of the novel by William P. Young; the book is about a father's renewed faith following his daughter's death.

The film caught some backlash from some white Christians angered by the depiction of God as a curvaceous black woman. But Spencer said it's based on the perception of main character Mack Phillips (Sam Worthington).

"This young boy was abused and so the relationship with this one male that should've protected him was fractured," said Spencer. "And then a man takes his daughter from him. The only woman to show him kindness was a woman who looked a lot like me. So that's why God manifested (in the flesh) and revealed himself to this young man was in a way he would actually receive it."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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