Hidden Figures is the incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world. The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big. (synopsis via Coming Soon)
One particularly famous and near-ubiquitous phrase, “History is written by the victors” (attributed to Winston Churchill but origin unknown) is used to explain the fact that so often through history we are given access to one group or person’s view of proceedings.
It has some pertinence in Hidden Figures, a film which pays long-overdue homage to a group of remarkable people who were pivotal to American involvement in the Space Race, but who, being both black and female in a society where the ruling elite were white and male, were pushed to one side, their stories subsumed into the approved prevailing narrative.
But as Taraji P Henson, a self-confessed “girl from the hood”, who plays mathematics genius Katherine Johnson, noted at a recent screening of part of the film at the Toronto Film Festival, that did many people a disservice not least young black women like herself looking for compelling role models.
“All I had was dreams and hope and that’s 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.”
But while that is a vitally important point, Janelle Monáe who plays Mary Jackson, says she feels the lesson of Hidden Figures goes even further.
“When I see them, I just see heroes. I’m proud as a woman and I’m proud as a minority but I’m also proud as an American. They’re superheroes but they’re real.”
And that’s why it’s so important in a world still defined by very narrow parameters of achievement that the stories of women such as Johnson, Jackson and Vaughan are celebrated far and wide so that everyone everywhere is given the chance to make their mark in this world and broaden the membership of the victors category once and for all.
Hidden Figures premieres USA on 13 January 2017.