Black Actors Still Find themselves in Roles as Domestics

On the eve of possible Oscar wins for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer for The Help, Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall praises their performances but criticizes Hollywood for being quick to reward "mammy" roles.


Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Annette John-Hall re-examines the role of African-American actors as domestics on the eve of possible Oscar wins for Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer for their parts in The Help. While praising both performances, she said Hollywood is quick to reward mammy roles.

The Associated Press predicts Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer are odds-on favorites to win Academy Awards for best actress and supporting actress, respectively, for their stellar performances in the 1960s ensemble melodrama The Help.

I'll tune in Sunday to see whether these two immensely talented, albeit underworked, actresses can pull off a one-two punch.

If they win, well, nothing could be finer.

Davis' portrayal of noble Aibileen and Spencer's of feisty Minny, friends and domestics who expose their white employers at great risk in the racist South, were certainly worthy of Oscar nods.

Still, am I the only one who cringes over the conventional notion that playing a maid is the surest way for a black actress to get some love in Hollywood?

Here we go again. It's been 72 years since Hattie McDaniel became the first African American to win an Oscar with her depiction of Scarlett O'Hara's house slave in Gone With the Wind.

You would think that with a black president, we'd be able to get a promotion on the silver screen.

But no. When it comes to black actresses, Hollywood is always quick to reward a mammy.

Read Annette John-Hall's entire column at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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