Octavia Spencer (‘The Shape of Water’): Our Experts predict she’ll make Oscar history for black actresses

Octavia Spencer is on the cusp of receiving her third Oscar nomination, this time for her performance as Zelda Fuller, a janitor who befriends a mute woman (Sally Hawkins) at a secret government facility. A third nomination would be a noteworthy achievement under any circumstance, but especially for Spencer, who would become only the second black actress in history to earn three Oscar nominations. The first was just last year: Viola Davis.

Women and people of color have always been underrepresented in Hollywood at large, so it wasn’t until Whoopi Goldberg that any black actress ever received a second nomination: she contended first for Best Actress in “The Color Purple” (1985), and then she won Best Supporting Actress for “Ghost” (1990). Then Davis followed two decades later by earning a Best Supporting Actress nom for “Doubt” (2008) and then a Best Actress bid for “The Help” (2011). Spencer co-starred in “The Help,” winning the Oscar for her supporting role on her first try.

Then earlier this year Davis and Spencer were nominated against each other for Best Supporting Actress. Davis earned a historic third nomination for “Fences” (and she won), while Spencer became just the third black actress to receive multiple nominations when she contended for “Hidden Figures.” Now Spencer is back in the running for “Shape of Water” with a chance to tie her former co-star Davis as the most nominated black actress in Oscar history.

As of this writing 11 of the Expert film journalists we’ve polled are predicting a nomination for Spencer: Edward Douglas, Dave Karger (IMDb), Scott Mantz (Access Hollywood), Jack Mathews (Gold Derby), Tom O’Neil (Gold Derby), Kevin Polowy (Yahoo), Krista Smith (Vanity Fair), Sasha Stone (Awards Daily), Brian Truitt (USA Today), Adnan Virk (ESPN), and Susan Wloszczyna (RogerEbert.com). Spencer has already received nominations for her performance from the Critics’ Choice Awards and Golden Globes. “The Shape of Water” also looks like a possible contender to win the Oscar for Best Picture, so she can only be helped by that much widespread love for the film.

However, Spencer was overlooked by the SAG Awards. That’s a significant bump in the road as the SAG Award nominees tend to overlap very reliably with the Oscar nominees for acting (last year 17 out of 20 SAG nominees matched the Oscars). But given how popular she has been in recent years with the academy, don’t underestimate her.

Be sure to make your Oscar nomination predictions so that Hollywood studio executives and top name stars can see how their films are faring in our Academy Awards odds. Don’t be afraid to jump in now since you can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on January 23. And join in the fierce debate over the 2018 Oscars taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our film forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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