The remarkable, and previously untold, story of three African-American women who helped launch America’s first orbital mission will be told in a book and subsequent film called HIDDEN FIGURES. Three pioneering women were mathematicians at NASA’s Langley Research Center in the 1940s through 60s; their job title was “human computer.” In November 2015 one of the three women–Katherine G. Johnson—was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Johnson, who is now 97 years old, performed complex calculations for NASA’s first successful orbital mission which sent astronaut John Glenn to space; Glenn made NASA’s third-ever trip to space.
Margot Lee Shetterly’s forthcoming book, Hidden Figures: The African-American Women Mathematicians Who Helped NASA and the United States Win the Space Race: An Untold Story, which tells this story, had its research and writing supported by the Sloan Foundation. The book was optioned for the screen before it was complete, and will be made by FOX 2000. Kevin Costner will play the head of the space program. Academy-award winning actress Octavia Spencer has signed on to star alongside pop star Janelle Monae, actress Kirsten Dunst, and actress Taraji P. Henson. Henson will play Katherine G. Johnson who was awarded the 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom. Mahershala Ali will play the love interest. Science & Film previously covered Johnson’s award, and just spoke with the book’s author Margot Lee Shetterly.
“I grew up in Hampton, Virginia, home of the Langley Research Center, the NASA facility at the heart of the HIDDEN FIGURES story,” Shetterly said over email. “I knew many of these women growing up—my father worked at Langley as a research scientist—and it never occurred to me until I was much older that there was anything unusual about a community where so many African Americans and women were professional engineers, mathematicians and scientists. Getting the chance to tell this history in a book has been an amazing opportunity, and the film will bring this important untold story to an even wider audience.”
Director, screenwriter, and producer Ted Melfi will direct the film. Chernin Entertainment and Donna Gigliotti of Levantine Films will produce. The film will be released January 13, 2017. HarperCollins will publish Shetterly’s book in the September 2016.