When Octavia Spencer won her Golden Globe for best supporting actress for her role in The Help on Sunday, she made a unique acceptance speech in which she didn’t just thank those who supported the film. Instead her speech also recognized the contributions of domestic workers with a quote by Martin Luther King.
“With regard to domestics in this country, now and then, I think Dr. King said it best: ‘All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance.’ And I thank you for recognizing that with our film,” Spencer said as she accepted her award.
Spencer’s statement in support of domestic workers might have been inspired by critics of The Help who objected its the depiction of African-American women in servile positions. By giving dignity to domestics in her speech, Spencer underscored the humanity of the character she played and the real women who fulfill this social role everyday.
Ai-Jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, told theGrio that the domestic workers’ community was overjoyed that Spencer won the award, and accepted it with mindful appreciation of their contributions.
“There were domestic workers gathered in living rooms and offices around the country rooting for her,” Poo said. “To have someone like Octavia Spencer bring attention to the dignity of this workforce means so much — especially since it is a workforce that has been undervalued for so long.”
Many are unaware of the fact that domestic workers were excluded from New Era legislation that was enacted during the ’30s to grant workers many of the basic protections that we take for granted today. Legal scholars postulate the motivation for this was the fact that many blacks held these professional roles. Southern politicians used this exclusion to keep African-Americans oppressed while others gained more workers’ rights.
Poo helps guide the National Domestic Workers Alliance the organization works to reverse this lack of protection to bring power, respect, and fair labor standards to domestic workers. Although Spencer’s Golden Globe award was a huge win for her, Poo asserted that the win meant even more for domestics.
“Millions have read the book and watched the film, so for us it’s a tremendous opportunity to connect with audiences and bring attention to the fact that there are two million workers in America who are taking care of our homes and doing the domestic work that makes things possible for us,” Poo said.
In the film, Spencer played Minny Jackson an African-American domestic working for whites in the south. Based on author Kathryn Stockett’s bestselling novel, The Help focuses on her character and other African-American maids living and working in the 1960s during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.
Jessica Chastain was also nominated for a Golden Globe award for her supporting role playing a maid in the film.
Sixty-one-year-old Barbara Young, who works as an organizer for the National Domestic Workers Alliance and is a domestic worker herself, said Spencer’s award speech intelligently connected the issues of domestic workers with the dream that MLK shared for all people.
“For me, Dr. King meant justice,” Young told theGrio. “We as domestic workers are seeking justice and respect. I only say this, because as domestic workers we are excluded from protection by the major labor laws in this country.”
Young also said Spencer’s mention of King alluded to the fact that a high percentage of domestic workers are women of color. “I was so proud to hear Octavia speak — to see that someone understands domestic workers, and the importance of the work we do.”