Speaking in a new interview, actor and producer Octavia Spencer explained why onscreen representation is so important, and called on the entertainment industry to tell “new and fresh stories” that reflect the lives of people in marginalised and underserved communities.
Alongside being an award-winning actor and producer, Octavia Spencer is known for her commitment to speaking out about inequality in Hollywood. From the gender pay gap to racist stereotypes, Spencer isn’t afraid to call out the problematic attitudes and behaviours which continue to plague parts of the entertainment industry.
And now, following the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement across the world, Spencer has spoken out about the role she thinks Hollywood has to play in tackling discrimination and racism as we move forward.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter about her Netflix series Self Made: Inspired by the life of Madam C.J. Walker, the actor spoke about the power of representation, and called on the entertainment industry to serve as an “example” and tell “new and fresh stories” that reflect the lives of people in marginalised and underserved communities.
“It began before us – it’s about equal protection under the law and to be seen as human beings,” she said. “That’s the struggle. I think entertainment should be an example.”
Spencer continued: “There is value in telling stories that we haven’t heard, from marginalised and underserved communities. I think Hollywood has for too long regurgitated things, and now it’s time to tell new and fresh stories.
“Representation matters. When you see a representation of yourself onscreen, it’s not just for you, it’s for the world at large, so that you can be visible. It’s important to be seen and heard.”
Speaking about the importance of advocating for yourself and those around you, Spencer added that playing Madam C.J. Walker – the first female self-made millionaire in America who made her money selling hair products for black women – had reminded her of the importance of community.
“It’s not that I learned this, because it has always been a part of who I am, but the idea that we can do so much as a community – helping each other, aiding each other, advocating for each other,” she said. “That’s what she did for Black women; she [worked] for Black women to have agency in their own lives to help provide for their families.”
Spencer continued: “It made me recommit to continuing to be a force in the community, whether it’s my female community, Black community, actor community – just try to be the most contributing person that I can to society.”
Spencer demonstrated this commitment to advocating for those in her communities last month, when she became one of a group of celebrities to sign an open letter calling on Hollywood executives to prioritise the inclusion of people with disabilities on screen.
“Nothing can replace lived experience and authentic representation,” Spencer said in the campaign’s video. “That’s why it’s imperative that we cast the appropriate actor for the appropriate role.”
Despite the coronavirus pandemic halting the production of TV shows and films across the world, Spencer has kept herself busy during the crisis by using her platform to advocate for equal opportunities and accurate representation – and that’s something we should all be celebrating.
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and work. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time.
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