Helping “The Help”

Richard Lindsay with a few thoughts on The Help‘s Oscar campaign and the work of its two stars, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, off the screen.


I’ve never seen an Oscar campaign like the one around The Help. When I reviewed the film, I pointed out some of the judgments about the film that it did not portray segregation harshly enough. Although I agreed in part with this assessment, I though the tradeoff was an approachable film with strong women characters that would spark positive conversation about the history of race relations in America.

Now that Oscar time has rolled around, and two of the film’s stars, Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer, are leading contenders for the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards, a whole different argument has come up about representation of African Americans on film. There have been some objections, particularly from African American commentators, that the Academy seems to be rewarding Davis and Spencer for taking on stereotypical roles as domestic workers.

Davis and Spencer have been unflagging supporters of the film and their roles. They have been truly remarkable in not simply sponging up the acclaim for their nominations, but advancing the conversation around the film, taking it to the next level of discussions about being women of color in the entertainment industry and the opportunities and challenges they face.

Here is a video of the Tavis Smiley show in which Smiley brings up some of these objections and Davis and Spencer respond with poise and aplomb. Spencer seems a lock to win the Supporting Actress Oscar, and since winning the SAG award, Davis is running neck and neck with Meryl Streep. Regardless, the work Davis and Spencer have done in continuing the conversation and explaining their philosophies as immensely talented actors who are black women has done immeasurable good. They’re already the winners as far as I’m concerned.

You can find Smiley’s interview with Davis and Spencer here.