Pass The Popcorn: Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer & Janelle Monáe Take On Race & Rocket Science In ‘Hidden Figures’

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Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are set to take on race and rocket science in the forthcoming space race era period film Hidden Figures, directed by Ted Melfi. The film written by Allison Schroeder is an adaptation of author Margot Lee Shetterly‘s forthcoming book Hidden Figures: The Story Of The African-American Women Who Helped Win The Space Race. Henson, Spencer and Monáe star alongside Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst in the film, which recounts the true story of female African-American mathematicians Katherine Jackson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson – a group of number crunchers that became invaluable to NASA during the space race; astronaut John Glenn became the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth in 1962 on the Friendship 7 mission because of their calculations. The fact that these women were able to do such important work in the Jim Crow south only makes their achievement more phenomenal. Writer Cara Buckley details the finer points of the production for The New York Times.

Ms. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, a math savant who calculated rocket trajectories for, among other spaceflights, the Apollo trips to the moon. Ms. Spencer plays her supervisor, Dorothy Vaughan, and the R&B star Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson, a trailblazing engineer who worked at the agency, too.

Slated for wide release in January, the film is based on the book of the same title, to be published this fall, by Margot Lee Shetterly. The author grew up knowing Ms. Johnson in Hampton, Va., but only recently learned about her outsize impact on America’s space race.

“I thought, oh my God, what is this we’re hearing here?” Ms. Shetterly said, recalling the moment a few years back when her father, a retired research scientist, casually mentioned Ms. Johnson’s life work. Her next thought: Why haven’t we heard about it before?

“Hidden Figures” comes as Hollywood is under mounting pressure to diversify its offerings after this year’s much criticized largely all-white Oscars race. And, while this picture has been in the works for several years, and the corresponding book for years before that, its filmmakers know it will invariably be lumped into post-#OscarsSoWhite chatter.

“It’s not a reactionary movie,” said Ted Melfi, the film’s director, “but it will be seen as one, which is unfortunate.”

Shetterly’s book about the careers of Jackson, Vaughn and Jackson will be released on September 6, 2016. Melfi’s Hidden Figures film is set to follow at the top of 2017. Get more on the Hidden Figures film via iMDb. Pre-order the book via Amazon.

Spotted at NYT.