Octavia Spencer—famous for her Oscar-winning role in “The Help”—defended the Hasty Pudding amid claims of elitism regarding the Theatricals’ all-male cast. “We have to give credit where credit is due,” she said, alluding to her own honor as the 2017 Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ Woman of the Year on Jan. 26. Spencer is currently up for another Oscar for her supporting role in “Hidden Figures,” a film about three black women vital to NASA’s launch of an astronaut into orbit.
When The Harvard Crimson asked Spencer about her role in an institution that does not accept women as members of its cast, Spencer pointed to the Hasty Pudding Theatricals’ continued efforts to include the opposite sex. “The only way to bring about change is to take that first step. And I think they’ve taken those first steps a while ago,” Spencer said. She referred to the past 66 women crowned Women of the Year by the Hasty Pudding Theatricals as markers of improvement. “That’s a lot of steps, and we have to applaud them for that.”
The Hasty Pudding Theatricals has come under fire for keeping an all-male cast, despite the coed auditions. “[Hasty Pudding’s] history might be that of elitism,” Spencer said. “But hello—they just brought me into the fold. So they can’t be that elitist.” Out of 67 Women of the Year, Spencer is the sixth black to be awarded this honor. As of 2017, however, no Asian American or Latina woman has received the award.
The Oscar-winner had a piece of advice for aspiring actresses of color. “Train. It’s like being a boxer. It’s like being a runner…It’s a long haul. It took me 15 years to become an overnight success.” In 2002, Spencer played a check-in girl in director Sam Raimi’s “Spiderman.” This March, Spencer will play God in “The Shack.” “Know that you have to buy a good pair of sneakers and train. But if you stay in the game long enough you will win. You will win a race. The question is: Will you be persistent at it?” Spencer added.
Spencer has won a Oscar, Golden Globe, and BAFTA, and now a Pudding Pot after her performance at the roast. After the Hasty Pudding president Guan-Yue Chen ’17 and vice president Daniel S. Milaschewski ’17 noted her role as a prostitute in “Bad Santa” and “Bad Santa 2,” a costumed Santa Claus ran on stage, deeming Spencer a member of his “naughty list.” From there, Spencer had to complete a number of tasks in order to earn her Pudding Pot, including throwing a chocolate pie at one of three actors. Spencer ended up pieing an actor playing Kellyanne Conway, yelling her iconic line from “The Help”: “Eat. My. Shit.”
Later, Spencer spoke about some of the more political implications of the pie. “We have a new president, and I’m waiting for him to demonstrate that he will be the president of all of us, of these United States,” Spencer said. “So in that moment of levity, I enjoyed giving [Conway] the pie. But you know, she’s a woman, and she needs to understand why women are speaking out in fear of some of the rights we’ve already litigated now being revisited.”
The roast garnered laughter from the audience as Spencer ran through a giant poster of her face and belted out the lyrics to “I Feel Good” as she fought off a fictional asteroid. Not every audience member was purely amused. “I thought the event was really well put together and highly entertaining, but it also highlighted Harvard's continued infatuation with status and power,” Alexander N. Lee ’17 said.
This article has been updated to reflect the following correction:
CORRECTION: February 1, 2017
A previous version of this story incorrectly indicated that Hasty Pudding Theatricals has only recently allowed women to audition for its cast. In fact, women have been allowed to audition for some time, though women are not members of the cast.
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