Hidden Figures offers crowd-pleasing biopic of historic women of colour

Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae hosted an emotional preview of footage from their awards-tipped drama about the untold story of landmark NASA employees in the 1960s

The untold true story of three African American women who made an indelible contribution to NASA in the 1960s is set to be a landmark biopic.

Hidden Figures received a special footage screening at this years Toronto film festival, with key scenes from the film shown and stars from the film attending. Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae spoke about the drama, alongside producer Pharrell Williams, who also provides music for the film.

This is so important, right? a tearful Henson remarked to the audience before Spencer admitted that she had also been crying while the footage played.

I didnt fall in love with this industry because of the accolades, Henson said. Im a girl from the hood. All I had was dreams and hope and thats the reason why this is so overwhelming. If I had known about these women when I was growing up then maybe I would have aspired to be a rocket scientist. Kids of colour just look up at sports and rap and acting and there is so much more important work to be done.

The story focuses on three colleagues (Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson) working at NASA in the early 1960s at a time when people of colour were segregated in an outside office. Despite the lower pay and constant discrimination, they all made major contributions to aerospace engineering and, in particular, their calculations helped to safely land the first American astronaut to orbit earth.

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div class=”u-responsive-ratio”> It does become emotional because you realise these women were operating, dreaming and engineering in a matrix that was filled with racism, sexism and discrimination, Williams said. How could you not want to be involved in this movie?

The film is still to be finished and the stars remarked that it was the first time they had seen the clips as well. Grammy-nominated singer Monae, also starring in festival hit Moonlight, reiterated the importance of the story.

Hidden Figures transcends race, she said. When I see them, I just see heroes. Im proud as a woman and Im proud as a minority but Im also proud as an American. Theyre superheroes but theyre real.

The footage screened might have reached some familiar notes but it all played out with crowd-pleasing panache, showcasing the charm of all three leads and touching upon deeper issues of segregation and discrimination. There remains a light tough though, as shown in a scene where the women find themselves faced with a broken down car in the middle of nowhere. An initially rude policeman quizzes them but once he finds out where they work, they receive a police escort to the office. As Henson tells Monae to slow down, she quips: But were three negro women chasing a white cop in 1961!

The film will receive an awards qualifying release in December with hopes that it might be one of the films to prevent another #OscarsSoWhite debacle for the third year running.

The biopic, a genre typically dominated by white male narratives, is heading towards a small revolution. As well as Hidden Figures, we can also expect a drama about the life of civil rights activist Angela Davis while Oprah Winfrey will take on the lead in <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/may/03/oprah-winfrey-star-henrietta-lacks-biopic-cancer-cells-medical-research” data-link-name=”in” body link” class=”u-underline”>The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, about a woman whose cells became instrumental in medical research.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/11/hidden-figures-offers-crowd-pleasing-biopic-of-historic-women-of-colour

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