LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - An emotional Octavia Spencer won her first Oscar on Sunday for her supporting actress role as a sassy maid in “The Help.”
Spencer, 39, was considered the favorite to win the Academy Award for playing an outspoken maid in the 1960s drama about African-Americans who work for rich white families in Mississippi in the early years of the civil rights era.
Spencer, whose mother was a maid and who had never been nominated before for an Academy Award, got a long standing ovation from the audience as she nervously walked to the stage to accept her award.
“Thank you Academy for putting me with the hottest guy in the room,” she said, referring to the golden Oscar statuette.
Fighting back tears and thanking her family and fellow cast members, she said, “I’m wrapping up, I’m sorry, I am freaking out. Thank you world.”
Spencer’s night however was slightly dampened by the loss for fellow “The Help” actress Viola Davis, who was beaten on Sunday in the lead actress race by Meryl Streep for “The Iron Lady.”
But a national domestic workers group said Spencer’s win was a “profound victory” for maids everywhere.
“We thank her for lifting up the stories of domestic workers and the dignity of the work,” National Domestic Workers Alliance co-founder Ai-jen Poo said in a statement.
Known to television audiences for her role on the sitcom “Ugly Betty,” Spencer grew up in a family of seven children whose mother worked as a maid.
Spencer’s film career was dominated in the previous decade by small parts in films such as “Legally Blonde 2,” “Spider-Man,” “Bad Santa” and “Beauty Shop.”
But her career took a dramatic turn when she joined the cast of “The Help,” a tale of a white writer who persuades black maids in the U.S. deep South to tell their stories.
Spencer played Minny Jackson, a woman who refuses to be cowed and who wreaks revenge on a cruel white employer by serving up a disgusting pie.
The film was adapted from the best-selling Kathryn Stockett novel of the same name and became a cultural touchstone and box office sensation, grossing more than $200 million at the global box office.
Spencer told reporters backstage that she was a benefactor of all of the advances made by real life African-Americans since the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
“I’m very humbled because I get to stand here and accept this award and I haven’t really done anything,” she said.
“I hope it’s a hallmark of more for young aspiring actresses of color. I hope that in some way I can be some kind of beacon of hope, especially because I am not the typical Hollywood beauty,” she added.
Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Chris Michaud and Sandra Maler