Fruitvale Station
Octavia Spencer in Fruitvale Station. In Hidden Figures, she plays Dorothy Vaughan – who was one of Nasa's first computer programmers in the 1960s, but was unknown to the general public Sundance

Octavia Spencer bought out a screening of her latest film Hidden Figures at a local cinema in Los Angeles in honour of all single parents.

The actress, best known for her 2011 Oscar winning performance in The Help, announced she purchased the tickets at the 8pm showing at Baldwin Hills cinema over the Martin Luther King Day weekend.

She posted on Instagram: "If you know a family in need that would like to see our movie but can't afford it have them come," Spencer wrote. "It's first come first served. My mom would not have been able to afford to take me and my siblings. So, I'm honoring her and all single parents this #mlkweekend Pass the word."

The 46-year-old received a Golden Globe nomination for her role as Dorothy Vaughan in the biopic film about three African-American women who worked at Nasa during the early 1960s and played key roles in helping launch John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962, into space.

Spencer was named by Entertainment Weekly as one of the 25 funniest actresses in Hollywood in 2009, calling her "sassy, smart and wise beyond her years".

When she received her Golden Globe in 2012 for her role as maid Minny Jackson in The Help, she quoted the late Martin Luther King: "All labour that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance."

The star paid tribute to her mother, Dellsena Spencer, for her upbringing on The Jess Cagle Interview, aired on The People Entertainment Network.

She said: "She taught us to see people as people. All people. Taught us to understand our place in the world. And our place in the world is, if you want to be a leader, you can be that. There was no glass ceiling until I got into the real world and realised there are glass ceilings everywhere!"

On winning her academy award for Best Supporting Actress she said that she "can be some sort of beacon of hope, particularly because I'm not the typical Hollywood beauty".

Last weekend, Hidden Figures took the top position in the US box office chart, beating the Star Wars prequel Rogue One into second place.

Hidden Figures also stars Taraji P Henson as Katherine G Johnson – an African-American physicist and mathematician who worked on the first space launches in Project Mercury in the early 1960s to Nasa's planned manned mission to Mars – and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, Nasa's first female African-American engineer, who later helped other women and minorities advance in the agency.