“Hidden Figures” is more than just the current number one film at the box office. It’s also a welcome sign that intelligent movies about smart women, and in this case women of color, can connect with a wide audience.
The true story of the previously unsung African-American female mathematicians who made the crucial calculations that put U.S. astronauts in space in the 1960s knocked previous box office champ “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” off its perch and is continuing to win profits and praise.
The film, which cost $25 million to make, has so far earned $40 million in America alone. It has won rave reviews from critics, has a 93 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes and is considered a late contender to crash the Oscar nominations race.
Among the main reasons for this success are the performances of the actresses in the movie. Each of them has issued a statement about what the project means to them. Read their thoughts here in their own words.
Best known for playing powerhouse Cookie in TV’s hip hop hit “Empire,” Taraji says she jumped at the chance to play numbers genius Katherine Johnson, whose calculations made the dream of space flight a reality.
“I’m a girl who grew up in the ‘hood, so all I ever had was dreams. And when you come from a place where many people feel they have no hope and all you see is that people who look just like you seem to have no place in society, that can be overwhelming. Maybe if I had known women like this existed when I was growing up, I would have wanted to become a rocket scientist. Not to say I don’t love what I’m doing – but there’s so much important work to be done in the world and I was so excited to be part of a project that might give kids growing up in places like where I grew up a different vision of what they can be.
“So I felt honored just to have this chance to portray a woman like Katherine. There was a flood of emotions surrounding that – and there was also fear because I am not that mathematically wired. But I think that so scared me, I felt I had to do it. I couldn’t say no. It was as if Katherine had every obstacle stacked against her, and yet nothing at all could stop her. That was one of her gifts and that is her legacy.
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“I was so honored that the filmmakers thought of me to take this role. They saw past Cookie and saw that I am interested in doing other things and I’m grateful for that. Once I took the role, I really quickly shed Cookie and jumped into Katherine’s world.”
This Oscar-winning actress best known for “The Help” relished the opportunity to bring the story of these special women to the screen and playing their smart supervisor, Dorothy Vaughan.
“I was drawn to the fact that we haven’t known about the contributions these brilliant NASA women made to our advancement and to the space race. That so intrigued to me. Whenever I choose a role, it has to be something that I’m intrigued by or enlightens me in some way. This movie had both of those combined.
“It is set in such an interesting time for our country, when it was redefining itself into what we are now. And the beautiful thing of looking back at history, as this film does, is contemplating how we can influence the future. I’m really hopeful that after seeing this story, there will be girls in the world who will realize just how much value they have.
“I definitely came from humble beginnings, and one thing my mother drummed into us is that your station in life doesn’t dictate your path in life. So to have Dorothy say something so similar to what I’ve always been taught, when she says ‘No one can tell you that you’re better than anyone else, and nobody can tell you that you’re less than anyone else,’ … well, I knew that I was definitely playing the right woman. I’m just the vessel through which the world will be able to see all that Dorothy contributed.”
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Pop star Janelle made a perfect choice for the film to launch her movie acting career with a tremendous performance as the other NASA math icon, Mary Jackson.
“To be part of telling this history was so motivating to me. These women literally changed the world by allowing the first astronaut to orbit earth. From the time I received the script and was asked to audition, there was nothing more important to me than taking on the role of Mary Jackson.
“I did a lot of research on Mary. She’s passed on, but her spirit still lives. Even though I never had the chance to speak to her she has definitely spoken to my heart. I saw her as someone who wants fairness. She knows she is smart and she is not going to belittle herself or dim her light to make anybody feel comfortable.”
Best known for the “Spider Man” films and a string of other roles, Kirsten brings all her experience to the tricky character of NASA supervisor Vivian Mitchell who feels threatened by the smart women under her and represents the unconscious bias and prejudice of the times.
“I had no idea there were human computers before there were electronic computers – and I had no idea there were women, black or white, doing this work, so I really wanted to be part of telling this story.
“Vivian is a female supervisor getting pressure from men to deliver and then she has to deal with the reality of a segregated system at that time and I think that pressure really builds in her. It makes her very aggressive because she feels she could lose her position at any time. She’s also a lonely person and I don’t think she necessarily wants to be a bully but that’s the position she feels she has been put in.
“Vivian’s the type of role that could be very cliché, to be honest. You could play her in a very one note kind of way, but I wanted to look inside her to make her more human.”
The humanity of these women is another big part of the appeal of the film, according to Taraji P. Henson.
“I love the relationships between these women. I love that the accept each other for who they are. It’s rare that you see a movie where you have three female friends, particularly African American friends, who love and support each other like you see here.”
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