The fantastic early box office performance for The Help only, well, helps its awards chances. At this point, the movie seems to have all the ingredients for Oscar attention: mostly positive reviews, through-the-roof audience reaction, and just a smidgen of controversy. It seems to me like Emma Stone and Viola Davis should be campaigned as Best Actress while the rest of the strong female cast (including Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain, and Sissy Spacek) belongs in the supporting category. Some people have written to me on Twitter suggesting that Davis would stand a better shot in supporting, but the film really feels like her character Aibileen’s story so such a move would feel quite disingenuous.
While the whole cast is impressive, my hunch is that Davis and Spencer are the best bets at nominations. With the Venice/Telluride/Toronto awards-bait onslaught only days away, I’d argue that Davis and Spencer are the two strongest female contenders from the first eight months of the year. (Other longshot candidates so far: Hanna‘s Saoirse Ronan for lead and Bridesmaids‘ Melissa McCarthy or Win Win‘s Amy Ryan for supporting.)
Of course Davis and Spencer will both face much tougher competition over the next four months: The Iron Lady‘s Meryl Streep, We Need to Talk About Kevin‘s Tilda Swinton, Carnage‘s Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster, Young Adult‘s Charlize Theron, My Week With Marilyn‘s Michelle Williams, Albert Nobbs‘ Glenn Close, and War Horse‘s Emily Watson are all on their way. But after this year’s shut-out of African-American acting nominees, there’s a decent shot next year’s contenders will be more racially diverse.
But I’m also bracing for a bit of backlash as Davis and Spencer’s Oscar buzz grows. After all, they stand to be nominated for playing maids—just as Gone With the Wind‘s Hattie McDaniel did over 70 years ago. As one of my Twitter followers wrote me the other day: “would be nice if black women could get oscar worthy work for something other than roles w such stereotype baggage attached.” I hear you. But what’s worse: a nomination for playing a complex women who happens to be a maid, or no nomination at all?
Dave on Twitter: @davekarger