Black ExperienceEntertainment

Black Girl Magic: ‘Hidden Figures’ Outshines ‘La La Land’ at Box Office

Looks like the myth that Black films can’t make big money in Hollywood is about to become a thing of the past.

In early February, “Hidden Figures” passed “La La Land” as the top-grossing (domestically) Oscar-nominated film in Hollywood this season. “Hidden Figures” focuses on three women who worked at NASA in the 1960s at a crucial time when America was competing with the Soviet Union for dominance in space during the Cold War.

According to BoxOfficeMojo.com, the domestic box office total for “Hidden Figures” was $137,336,830 as of February 17; the domestic box office total for “La La Land” was $130,154,066. The movie starring “Empire” fan-favorite Taraji P. Henson made $12,948,935 at the foreign box office, while the musical, featuring Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, raked in $167,671,768 outside of the United States. “La La Land” was released on December 9 and “Hidden Figures” opened on December 23.

“Hidden Figures” was based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly, which detailed the careers of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson played by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae, respectively.

After working as a human computer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Jackson earned her engineering degree, was promoted, and became NASA’s first African American female engineer in 1958. In 1961, mathematician Katherine Johnson worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., with Jackson and Vaughan.

Though the character Al Harrison, played by Kevin Costner, was fictional, the depiction of John Glenn asking Johnson to recalculate and re-verify the IBM re-entry calculations was accurate.

According to NASA.gov, Johnson, “calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space.”

The NASA.gov article continued: “Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn requested that she personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his flight aboard Friendship 7 – the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. She continued to work at NASA until 1986 combining her math talent with electronic computer skills. Her calculations proved as critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of the Space Shuttle program, as they did to those first steps on the country’s journey into space.”

Many have wondered how such a gripping story had never been told before. “Hidden Figures” author Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Va. She began writing the book in 2010. Her father, worked as a research scientist at NASA Langley Research Center alongside many of the subjects that would become featured in her book.

Twentieth Century Fox hosted a screening of “Hidden Figures” along with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) on Capitol Hill last week. The director of the film, Theodore Melfi was in attendance for a discussion as part of the screening. The film was also screened at the White House in December 2016.

In addition to being nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture, Octavia Spencer was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and the story was nominated in the category of Best Screenplay.

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