Can the ladies of 'The Help' score Oscar nods?

Dale Robinette

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

Comments (149 total) Add your comment
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  • Jackie

    I saw this movie yesterday afternoon, and the performances were all outstanding! I would be thrilled to see nominations for Davis and Spencer, but a nomination for Stone would also be well deserved.


      The movie was good, but I don’t understand the hype – its hardly outstanding. Emma Stone is a nice actress, but everyone is going a little overboard with praise. It will be nice to see a movie when black people are portrayed as helping themselves without a white savior and something other than a Spike Lee joint or far far worse, a Tyler Perry production

      • Jackie

        The movie was very good, but I didn’t say the movie was outstanding. I said that the performances were, and the great thing about Stone’s performance is that it was so different from anything we’ve seen her do. She showed her range with it.

      • LiLi

        This comment always surprises me. In what way does EM’s character “save” the other two? She tells their story, but whatever comes from that the women themselves enact.

      • Regina George

        Emma Stone gave a fantastic performance, especially considering that this was her first role in a drama. Her acting range is incredible.

      • Summer

        It was the performances in this movie that truly made it so outstanding. Each one of the actresses in this brought so much to the story. Emma Stone was fantastic and showed so much range, Viola Davis was just…I mean, this woman NEEDS to be nominated for an Oscar. So expressive. Octavia Spencer was loveable and Bryce Dallas Howard finally won me over. She was wonderful. I loved Jessica Chastain, as well. Such a superb performance.

    • Strepsi

      I agree with DAVE KARGER that to put Davis in Supporting would be disingenuous, and I’d add that I do not think that will happen, as campaigning the white actor for Lead and the black actor for Supporting — just because — would feel like 8 steps backwards….

    • Frank Lee

      Hattie McDaniel did not play a maid. She played a slave. Big difference.

      • Michelle Bachmann

        Ah, those were the days.

      • Nola

        Not much difference

  • ?????

    That last bit about maids being the role they are nominated for gave me a headache. How many times does Viola Davis’s quote about playing doctors or lawyers yet still being a stereotype but liking this role due to the characters complexity being the thing that sets it apart from the rest, have to make the rounds before people stop complaining about how she plays a maid. Its the actress in the role that gets nominated not the other way around. What her characters job is shouldn’t weigh in on her fantastic performance.

    • D

      Nobody’s saying she’s not good. As black folks, some of us are tired of the limited options for black actors and quite frankly, of constantly Driving Miss Daisy all around. It’s a legitimate gripe. And unfortunately, it’s not as simple as “it’s just a role…” There’s a lot of history and baggage and good ol’ Hollywood racism that we’ve had to overcome, so there are clearly old wounds that have not healed, and for good reason.

      • Colin

        I definitely get what you are saying. But there have been plenty of great roles for African Americans that have gotten awards attention. Halle Berry certainly wasn’t playing a maid or a slave in ‘Monster’s Ball’, and Denzel Washington most definitely was not driving miss daisy in ‘Training Day’. They decided to adapt a novel about maids in the South, and I can almost guarantee that if they had cast white actresses in blackface to play the maids, it would have been 100x more controversial than hiring black actresses. There is absolutely no stereotyping with how they cast the roles in this movie. More than anything, it is just logical based on the subject matter.

      • Consider This

        The gripe with Halle winning her award is that she basically f’ed a white guy on film and never received more Oscar worthy roles or acclaim afterwards except for Frankie & Alice, which was swept under the radar. Also, most African Americans have seen her play a similar role as a crackhead in Jungle Fever. Denzel has earned his far share of acclaim, but the one time he wins is for playing a dirty cop, not his roles in Glory, The Hurricane, or Malcolm X. Giving Denzel the award for Training Day would be like giving Will Smith an Oscar for Wild Wild West or as Mike Lowry in Bad Boys rather than his roles in Ali and the Pursuit of Happyness.

      • Ronnie

        I hear what you’re saying Consider This and agree with you. Just wanted to write and mention that Denzel did in fact win the Oscar for his role in Glory.

      • Joan

        Although I understand the gripe, there have been black Oscar wins/nods that had nothing to do with demeaning, stereotype-riddled roles: Jennifer Hudson won for playing a take-no-prisoners girl-group singer in “Dreamgirls,” Jaime Foxx won for playing Ray Charles, Angela Bassett was nominated for playing Tina Turner, Will Smith got a nod for playing Muhammad Ali, etc

      • Consider This

        @Ronnie, thanks I for got he won, too.
        @Joan you may be right, but everyday is a constant fight to not revert back to the stereotypical roles to get an Oscar win.

        I am also curious as to whether or not the author of The Help gave back to the real help? It almost seems as if she used them publish her own book. Also, why haven’t we seen an interview with the author and the real life help? Is there something I’m missing?

      • Rob

        I think you’re missing that its a fictional book. Its historical fiction.

      • adam

        So it’s apparently upsetting that Denzel won his Oscar for playing a bad guy in Training Day, but don’t you realize that white actors or actresses have also won awards for playing bad people? Why is it only a problem when it’s a black actor or actress? I seem to recall Daniel Day Lewis winning for There Will Be Blood, and he was a murderous lunatic in that movie. Heath Ledger won for playing a sociopathic criminal in The Dark Knight. Anthony Hopkins won for playing a freakin cannibal. So why is it such a big deal that Denzel won for playing a crooked cop?

      • TorontoTom

        Washington DID win Best Supporting Actor for Glory as well as Best Actor for Training Day. Two Oscars for him – one for playing a good guy, one for playing a bad guy.

      • reeree

        I thought Denzel Washington won for Glory.

      • js

        did you see the movie? Hattie’s role in Gone with The Wind was really a side character. Davis and Spencer’s roles are what drive the movie. This movie does not portray them as just a maid, or a slave. Like they say in the book, “Nobody asked Mamie how she felt in Gone With the Wind”. The book and the movie did ask how they felt about being “the help”.

      • imho

        No Colin-

        Halle didn’t play a maid, she just had to sc*** an ugly white man to portray her “liberation”.

        Give me a break. Black actresses will only win Oscars for stereotypical roles – even Jennifer Hudson won for as a “head rolling” sistah girl performance.

      • Lloyd

        Then go ahead and write a book/script with black characters that you approve of. If it’s any good and will make money, it will get published and made into a film. Hollywood cares about one thing only….money. It’s a business.

      • dee123

        Nice will never win. Ugly & or evil no matter what race you are gets the Oscar.

      • Squishmar

        Uh, dee… you forgot mentally or physically handicapped… those are total Oscar catnip.

      • SisterZip

        Consider This: Denzel won a Supporting Actor Oscar for Glory.

      • C

        Watch out! educated black people here. I love it!

  • Joseph

    i say Stone’s performance is the weakest among the women roles in the film.

    • June


      • OMG

        Agree, too. Emma Stone did what she does best…played a quirky character. The role almost felt like too much of a stretch for her. What about Bryce Dallas Howard – she was terrific!

    • CAFTL

      I agree, she was completely outshined by Howard, Chastain (omg, this woman is an amazing actress), Davis, and Spencer. That was one of my first comments after seeing that movie. She has a long way to go, imo . It’s unfair she was cast in that role, yes she was decent and believable but not up to everyone’s else caliber and boy did it show. Aside from that, I loved this movie.

    • not a fan

      Not to be mean, but I couldn’t I stop thinking Emma Stone looked like a pug with a bad perm for most of the movie, it was a big distraction.

      • pahammer

        “Not to be mean but…Emma Stone looked like a pug”

        Nah. You ain’t mean. That’s really constructive.

      • not a fan

        see i think that looking like a pug is a big compliment. They are so cute.

        the bad perm comment was the one I was worried about. ;)

  • Heather

    I hate it when I hear people saying that the women in this movie are playing maids. They’re not. They’re playing amazing women who just happen to work as maids.

    • toosoon

      It’s so hard to distinguish regular maids from “amazing women who just happen to work as maids.” They should wear special hats or something.

      • Q


    • Strepsi

      It’s also journalist snobbery. Do they think there aren’t REAL women, of all races, who work as maids TODAY, and who might want to see a movie? There are people whose job it is to serve other people, and to suggest that portraying such a person is beneath a good actor is even more “classist” than racist.

      • jr

        … good point, strepsi.

      • Mother Nature

        I was thinking the same thing. Plenty of my friends, all white, have worked as maids, and I don’t believe it is less demeaning to wait on condescending people depending on your color. I have worked in the service industry and been treated horribly by people who are white, black, young, old, etc. Poor treatment is poor treatment, but I agree this movie promotes a stereotype. Either way, Spencer stole that movie, and Stone was out of her league.

      • Kool

        Strepsi, I think you have made probably the truest point on here. Because a lot of the attacks on the characters played by Davis and Spencer a more based in class than race. And are mostly coming from black people. It seems that some of them are ashamed to think that black women work or worked as maids.

    • bj39

      Heather I agree, they were playing amazing women no matter what color their skin! It is a beautiful movie with superb acting. In our theater the audience broke into spontaneous applause and a few shouted “bravo.” It was a sad part of our history but this movie reminds us of the strength of the people who took part in the civil rights movement. The Hope made us cry, made us laugh hysterically and also made us think. When we left the theater I felt I was leaving new friends. I plan to go see them again!

  • outside agitator

    race shouldn’t enter into nominations at all, only performances. that said, so far Viola Davis deserves a nomination. will Meryl Streep etc provide stiff competition? maybe…maybe not. truth be told, most of Streep’s movies suck. so do Kate Winslet’s. and Melissa McCarthy?! I love MM but “fat chick who farts” isn’t a character. Viola should be a lock.

    • Awesome

      Doubt, Angels in America, Adaptation, The Bridges of Madison County, any of these ring a bell. Meryl Streep has the most nominations of any actress for a reason. And Kate Winslet has an excellent history of playing in great cinema.

    • outside agitator

      Adaptation is worth watching maybe once. Angels wasn’t a feature, Bridges is….an aquired taste. Mamma Mia, Julie and Julia and dozens of others are unwatchable and so are Kate’s. Kate’s a great actress who tends to be in pretentious yawners. and/or bummers.

      • Q

        Just because a movie is a bummer, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth seeing. Revolutionary Road is brilliant.

      • Aaron

        I think Kate is more consistent than Meryl. Revolutionary Road, Eternal Sunshine, Little Children, Quills, Hideous Kinky, The Reader (to some extent)….

        Meryl is a brilliant actress, but most of her movies are a bit forgettable…although she was absolutely brilliant in The Devil Wears Prada (because it was so different from anything she has ever done)…probably should’ve won the Oscar.

  • zozo

    Boy, EW is REALLY pushing this film!(LOL!)…I just read an article over on Indiewire and they have the opposite reaction…a 72% tomatoe rating is MIDDLING not Oscar worthy. Anne Thompson (Thompson on Hollywood) believes Stone’s performance to be the weakest link. Funny…EW must be on the producers payroll. Anyway, if ANYONE should win an Oscar(s) it should be Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer. That’s pretty much it for this film.

    • PJ

      I think you need to read the article instead of just commenting based on the headline. The article says that Davis and Spencer are the strongest odds for a nomination.

    • Mark

      EW is discussing a high profile film the weekend that it opens in theaters. That hardly counts as “pushing” a film. When EW devotes as many covers to Viola Davis as it has to Robert Pattison or Taylor Lautner, then your comment might have some weight.

    • Owen

      The Rotten Tomatoes listing for some reason does not include any of the regular “Top Critics”. And Emma’s performance is being debated all over. I love her, and I think she does what she can with the role better than any young actress of the moment could. but it just isn’t, no matter who played it, a role worthy of a nomination.

  • Jim

    Viola Davis: Best Actress all the way! She was amazing. Emma Stone: ditto!

    • Tiffany

      She is going up against The Streep and Tilda Swinson. A nomination, absolutely, but a win…unless the Academy splits the vote with those two, this could be Swinson’s year with ‘Kevin’.

      • Lloyd


  • dancerindc

    I saw this yesterday, and I think at the LEAST Viola Davis should score a nomination. She was giving a master class in performance. Best Actress all the way!

  • anna

    There is no way on earth Emma Stone is getting any nominations for this. Every character in this film was a one dimensional stereotype but Viola Davis was the only actor to rise above it therefore she is the only one who deserves a nomination. And since Best Actress is going to be very crowded this year, she should go Supporting where she has a chance.

    • April

      You’re right, Viola should learn her place, which is in the shadows “supporting” others. If you believe that she should not be nominated in the lead… you clearly didn’t learn anything from this movie.

    • Owen

      Did you not see Chastain’s performance? And really, as thankless as the role is, Bryce Howard does exactly what she needed to do with Hilly. She balanced the film somewhat and elevated the part from stock villainess to only semi-stock villainess…which is a lot considering how the role is written, both in the book and film.

  • Zach

    No, boring. This purely a race card play.

  • carol

    Where’s the love for Bryce Dallas Howard? I thought she was terrific.

    • Nicole

      Opie’s daughter was great as well. EVIL!

    • TerryT

      I agree that Howard was excellent.

    • Strepsi

      She is one of the more overrated actors of her generation, but she will get an “Anjelica Huston Child-of-a-Director Welcome To The Club Oscar Nomination” soon enough.

      • Tye-Grr

        This comment is invalid since Anjelica Huston is an amazing actress. And Howard is hardly overrated, she’s panned left and right for her performances. I do however think her performance in ‘The Help’ is definitely her best so far and is deserving of being in the Oscar conversation with her co-stars.

  • Brett

    I’d be surprised if Davis and Spencer weren’t nominated come Oscar time. Granted, it’s only August, but both actresses deliver strong performances that should be remembered four months from now. I just hope the studio pushes Davis in the lead category, and not supporting. She plays the main character (even more so than Stone).

  • Plastic Jesus

    If they put Viola Davis in the lead role, she’ll lose. She has zero chance of beating Meryl Streep playing Margaret Thatcher, or some of the other white actresses that will be nominated. She may win in a supporting role, that’s her best shot.

    • PW

      How about we wait until those movies come out before we start determining anyone’s odds, okay?

    • Joan

      What people forget is that, as good as Streep is, “the Iron Lady” is directed by “Mamma Mia!”‘s Phillicia Lloyd, a hack. Good actors giving good perofrmances in bad films tend to have a disadvantage over actors in acclaimed films.

      • Kim

        Tell that to Marion Cotillard. La Vie en rose as a film itself was umimpressive but Cotillard stood out enough to win the Oscar for Best Actress.

    • Mother Nature

      Maybe she’d rather compete in her category than win in a lesser category. Some folks rather be nominated for the leading role actually performed in a movie, as opposed to having a performance demeaned as “supporting” cast.

  • Vicious Penguin

    Viola Davis playing a maid isn’t going to sweep Oscar gold into her hands in a lead role… her competition will mop the floor with her.

  • Nicole

    Davis and Spencer should be nominated and that is the end of the conversation. They were fab. I don’t care that they were maids. They made me laugh, cry and highly recommend the film. I also loved my Soror Cicely Tyson and Sissy Spacek.

    • Strepsi

      It would be great if Davis was nominated for Lead for THE HELP and for Supporting for EAT PRAY LOVE, but it is unlikely as the latter movie sucked hard.

      • Huh?

        It’s unlikely because that movie came out a year ago.

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