By Alex Edwards
When I left the Science Museum after an exclusive showing of Hidden Figures, I instantly felt more empowered as a woman. The film not only has a subtly witty script, but it digs deep into the gritty lives of the three main female characters, truly capturing the brilliance of them all. Based on a true story, it gives you an inside look into the struggles of women of colour in America at the time and make you appreciative of the obstacles they overcame. I had learned a brief history of the story in school, but watching it all unfold onscreen put you in the moment so much that you could feel their pain.
If you haven’t seen Hidden Figures, the film follows a group of black female mathematicians at NASA, played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe. The team helped win the space race against the Soviet Union and all went on to become trailblazers for those that would follow. Each woman gave a shining performance, and it was astounding to watch their intelligence win out as they took on impressive roles in their respective fields.
Talking with Henson, Spencer and Monáe gave us an inside look at what it was like to be the faces for such a powerful film that inspired men and women across the globe.
Q: The film tells the story of three African American women who were the brains behind NASA. How much of their story did you know before you started filming the movie and what surprised you the most?
Henson: Nothing and that’s what surprised me. I was upset, because as a young girl I was told that math and science wasn’t for girls, so here I found out that someone lied to me. It became my mission in doing this film, because other girls have to know.
Spencer: They were part of a team that saw something greater than themselves. It was about the security of our country and that’s why they were in the space race. Because of these women’s contributions, we were able to be successful in bringing our astronauts to and from space safely.
Q: How were your math skills in high school?
Henson: In high school it was fine, but in college there was a moment in my life where I thought I couldn’t act, so I decided to take up electrical engineering. That’s when I found out that acting was really what I was supposed to be doing! I needed that detour.
Q: Who are the women who have inspired your lives and who you’d like to celebrate?
Spencer: Harriet Tubman, let’s just be clear, for me freedom is never free.
Henson: I think we’ve all inherited what our ancestors left behind. Directly what they left behind is my mother and my grandmother and I still have them both. They taught me how to be a woman. My grandmother has no idea what she taught me about being a mother and a wife. Even though I haven’t been a wife, I know how to be one because my grandmother taught me!
Monae: There are so many women that I could name and they all taught me very specific and different things. Mentioning grandmothers, my grandmother was a shear-cropper in Aberdeen, Mississippi so she came from nothing, but she turned her life into something. She made a lasting impact on my life and she taught me the importance of working hard and never letting obstacles, like coming from a poor class or people seeing being a woman or being black during that era as an obstacle, and she didn’t allow that to deter her or defeat her mentally and so here I am and I’m a descendant of hers.
Q: The three of you obviously had a very close relationship on-screen, what was it like off-screen?
Henson: They’re divas! I mean, Octavia won the Oscar so she’s just flaunting it! No, no we love each other!
Monae: What you see is genuine. We had a lot of fun.
Hidden Figures arrives on digital download in the UK on 19 June, and launches on HD, BLU-RAY™ and DVD on 3 July.