When you think of NASA during the 60’s you think of John Glenn, right? The new film Hidden Figures will hopefully stamp some new names into your head about that time in our nation’s space exploration program. The film is the untold and very incredible story of a group of African American female mathematicians whose computation skills helped put Glenn into orbit. These women not only crossed the race barrier, but the gender barrier as well. In the midst of the civil rights movement and the Cold War, these brilliant woman help restore faith in America and help establish our place in the Space Race.
After WWII, many federal agencies began hiring women because of the lack of able bodied men. The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (the “NACA”,) which was known back then as America’s space think tank, put together a group of female mathematicians. This group was formed because it was believed that because women had smaller hands they were better equipped at using the “adding machines” and were more detail oriented. Doing repetitive wind tunnel tests and the like gave more room for men to work on “serious” projects. When the Fair Employment Practices Committee was created the reach went out even further to African American Woman. Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, Kathryn Peddrew, Sue Wilder, Eunice Smith and Barbara Holley were known by other NASA employees at the time as “the colored computers.” Because of Jim Crow Laws they were separated, even from the other woman who did the same work. But despite their surroundings they quickly rose in rank and became an integral part of the Friendship 7 mission. John Glenn himself refused to even launch until they double checked the calculations made by the new computers. He trusted those woman with his life.
The film is an adaptation of the book by the same title by author Margot Lee Shetterly. The interesting thing is the book will not even be out until September of this year. The film is being produced by Pharrell Williams with screenplay by Allison Schroeder, but it was Donna Gigliotti who originally optioned the project. She has produced Shakespeare in Love and Silver Linings Playbook, both nominated for multiple Oscar’s. This movie has the potential to be in the same boat.
Filming began shooting early this year with a set release date of January 13, 2017 so unless they release the movie to a limited group at the end of the year they may miss Oscar train this year. Ted Melfi, director of St. Vincent, will be directing. He was one of the options to direct the new Spider Man franchise but pulled himself out of the running right before the job was given to Jon Watts. It seems this film may have been the reason.
The book is a personal account of the time these women spent at NASA through the eyes of 4 of them, although as of now we only know three that have been cast: Johnson (Traji P. Henson), Vaughn, (Octavia Spencer), Jackson (Janelle Monae.) Also attached to the film is Kevin Costner. There is no confirmation which character he will play it seems most likely he will be playing some sort of high ranking NASA official. Kirsten Dunst is also another actor confirmed in the movie. The film is in production but we may be hearing of more actors coming into play. Rumors have been going around that the fourth female lead has been cast as a relatively unknown actor.
The title for this film is very fitting; they were hidden figures. But now their story is being shared. I can’t wait to see it. Keep a look out for more updates on this film. If you want to read their story before the movies comes out the book is already available for preorder online and at many retailers. The official release date for the book is September 6, 2016.