Her unique journey to perform

By Keisha Bell

As children, we are routinely encouraged to use our imagination to “see” our future. “What do you want to become when you grow up,” is a common question asked. Such question follows us throughout high school while changing into, “What are you going to do when you graduate?”

As we grow, frequently, we receive messages that restrict the boldness needed to manifest our childhood declarations of what is possible. We are steered to accept societal categories of what we can become. Yet, there are some who reject societal limitations.

Meet Octavia Lenora Spencer, an actress, producer and author. She is the first black actress to receive two consecutive Academy Award nominations in back-to-back years, the first black actress to receive two Academy Award nominations after a win, one of only two black actresses to have received three Academy Award nominations and is currently tied with Viola Davis as the most nominated black actress.

Spencer was born on May 25, 1972, in Montgomery, Ala. She had childhood dreams of becoming an actress but also believed in obtaining a college education.

She initially attended Auburn University at Montgomery but graduated from Auburn University in 1994, where she majored in English with a double minor in journalism and theater. That in itself is a worthy accomplishment; however, Spencer could not shake the pull on her heart to act.

Spencer’s mother, who worked as a maid, knew of her daughter’s desires.  She encouraged her to do something more practical, so after graduating, she took a job assisting in casting movies filmed in her home state. What happened next illustrates that what is meant to be, will be.

While working to help with casting for the movie, “A Time to Kill,” the film’s director asked Spencer to audition for a role. Just one year after graduating from college, Spencer landed her first on-screen role without any professional training.

While filming, Spencer made connections with two people, namely Sandra Bullock and Tate Taylor, who would prove to be instrumental in her career. This experience gave her the confidence she needed to move to Los Angeles, sharpen her talent, and pursue her dream to act.

Spencer obtained small roles in short films and on television guest spots. Bullock hired Spencer to work in her 1998 short film. Making progress, Spencer got a role on a short-lived television series. As she worked to advance her career, people began to take notice, and she became known as a strong supporting actress who is very skilled at both drama and comedy.

It was through her connection with Tate, however, that Spencer’s career really took off. Tate bought the film rights to Stockett’s novel “The Help” before the book was published. Although Spencer had to audition for a part in the movie, she traveled with Stockett on her book tour to read the black maids’ dialogue.

Because of the success of the book, there was pressure to hire a famous actress to play the role Spencer eventually was cast. She did not disappoint and was rewarded by winning the Golden Globe Award in 2012 as well as the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.

Keisha Bell

Spencer’s acting credits are lengthy, as are her awards, which include a British Academy Film Award. Her unique journey to perform reminds us to be courageous as we pursue our dreams. In truth, we never know who is waiting to help us arrive at the next level.

Keisha Bell is an attorney, author, and public servant. www.emergingfree.com

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