Some facts behind the 'Hidden Figures' book and movie straight from the source.
Oscar winner Octavia Spencer was the first to sign on to the movie — two years early — thinking the story was historical fiction, Essence magazine reports. “Because if it had happened,” she reasoned from an office on the Fox Studios lot, “wouldn’t we know about it?” Virginia Beach native Pharrell Williams heard about the film and begged to do the soundtrack. Monae, who was asked to audition, says the role was “preordained.” Director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) read the script and took himself out of the running for Spider-Man: Homecoming. “This is a movie that you stop everything you’re doing, no matter what you are doing, and you do whatever it takes to get it made,” Melfi says.
Spencer portrays Dorothy Vaughan, a Kansas City, Missouri, native who began her career at NASA as a “computer” and was eventually named supervisor (NASA’s first Black supervisor) of the West Area Computing Group. Realizing the introduction of the IBM machine would likely render her and her coworkers dispensable, Vaughan, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 98, taught herself how to program the newfangled technology’.And then she taught her colleagues.
“She is the genesis of Black Girls Code,” Spencer says. “Dorothy Vaughan knew that the computer was going to compute much faster than the women could. She’s like, ‘Well, how do we get to the next phase of being invaluable to this company. We have to learn how to program these machines.’ This woman is the mother of all girls who code —Black, White, Latin, Asian, Indian. It all began with Dorothy Vaughan.”
Certainly there is something of a mathematician in the forty’ something Spencer. Her remarkable performances in films such as Fruitvale Station and The Help, for which she won an Oscar, reveal both a rooted individual and one who exhibits a rare precision. “Forget about it,” says Melfi, who likens the actress to an exquisite 1920 Bordeaux.
“There’s not a missed beat or a missed sense of anything. Octavia’s just…she’s money in the bank.” Rightfully so, studio (“I am very’ inspired musically right now,” she says). Spencer snagged a best supporting actress nomination for Hidden Figures from the Screen Actors Guild and is up for a Golden Globe in the same category.
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While she doesn’t think much about her legacy’, Spencer is strategic about the parts she chooses and why. “Coming in and saying a line or two in a small role, when the juicier roles are being written for other people is not my idea of forward thinking,” she say’s. Currently she is producing and starring in a series about Madam C.J. Walker with director Kasi Lemmons. “For me, when I get projects from directors of color, you have to take those chances. That’s how you keep moving forward. You allow and create opportunities for people who wouldn’t otherwise get them.”
Whether she’s talking about Black folks in Hollywood or Black women in space or Black Lives Matter, Spencer is both conscious and clear: “It does something to you emotionally to know that in this day and age we are still having to validate our very’ existence. That is humbling— it’s enraging—but you know what? Personally, I love being underestimated. When you underestimate my value, because I know my worth, it’s going to cost you.”