Who doesn’t love true stories about geniuses, especially those who were underdogs because of social status? This fall we’re getting Disney’s Queen of Katwe, about an Ugandan chess prodigy who challenged gender stereotypes to become a world champion at the game.
A few months later, there’s Hidden Figures, which depicts the story of Katherine Johnson, an African-American math genius who helped put men on the Moon. And we now have a trailer for the movie:
As you can see in the spot, the film stars Taraji P. Henson in the lead role, joined by Octavia Spencer, Kevin Costner, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parson. What it doesn’t make clear is that it’s a new feature by St. Vincent director Theodore Melfi, producted by Pharell Williams and based on a nonfiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly. It also doesn’t stress just how real and important the women at the center of its story were.
Here’s all you need to know about the true story:
Who was Katherine Johnson?
Actually, the question is who is she. Johnson, who is portrayed on screen by Henson, is still alive and will be celebrating her 98th birthday this month. She displayed brilliance in mathematics at a young age and after starting out as a teacher she went to work at NACA, the precursor to NASA, in 1953. She calculated the trajectory of the Apollo 11 mission and in decades since has worked on the Space Shuttle program and even the current plans to go to Mars.
Are the other main characters real people?
Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughn, another mathematician at NACA who led the group of African-American women Johnson was hired into. Mary Jackson (Monae), who died in 2005, was also in that group. Of course, John Glenn, seen in the trailer played by Glen Powell, was the first man to orbit the Earth, thanks in part to these women. Mahershala Ali plays Johnson’s husband, Jim, and their three daughters are all portrayed on screen, as well.
What about Kevin Costner’s head of NASA role?
Costner’s character in the movie is named Al Harrison, who appears to be a fictional version of James E. Webb, head of NASA at the time of Glenn’s most famous flight. Jim Parson’s NASA engineer character also seems to be made up for the movie.
When does Hidden Figures open?
January 13, 2017.
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