‘Hidden Figures’ no longer as film shines light on black women who sent NASA to space

Octavia Spencer, left, who plays Dorothy Vaughan in the film “Hidden Figures,” greets NASA “human computer” Katherine Johnson at a NASA reception. Credit: NASA

Hollywood has made a lot of movies about space and NASA, but none quite like this.

The new film Hidden Figures, to be released December 25, reveals the work of three African-American women who were the brains behind NASA’s most critical missions.

Taraji Henson stars as Katherine Johnson, a math genius from rural West Virginia who calculated trajectories for rockets carrying the first Americans into space. Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe portray scientists Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, respectively. All worked at Langley Research Center in the then-segregated state of Virginia.

“You’re talking about being the first woman in a room of all white men at a time where that was not popular,” Henson said. “I don’t think many people could do that. The courage just to walk in that room speaks to her fearlessness, speaks to her tenacity, speaks to her brilliance,” the actress said of Johnson.

Before his history-making launch into orbit in 1962, astronaut John Glenn didn’t trust an electronic computer’s math until Johnson personally verified the flight calculations.

Michelle Obama said Hidden Figures shows what’s possible when people believe their own potential. “As Katherine Johnson has said — and these are her words — she said, ‘Stick with it. No matter the problem, it can be solved.’”

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