Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder, based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly about African American female mathematicians who worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) during the Space Race. The film stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who calculated flight trajectories for Project Mercury and other missions. The film also features Octavia Spencer as NASA supervisor Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as NASA engineer Mary Jackson, with Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell and Mahershala Ali in supporting roles.
Principal photography began in March 2016 in Atlanta and was wrapped up in May 2016. Hidden Figures was released on December 25, 2016, by 20th Century Fox, received positive reviews from critics and grossed $230 million worldwide. It was chosen by National Board of Review as one of the top ten films of 2016 and was nominated for numerous awards, including three Oscar nominations(Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Supporting Actress for Spencer) and two Golden Globes (Best Supporting Actress for Spencer and Best Original Score). It won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.
In 1961, mathematician Katherine Johnson works as a "computer" in the segregated West Area Computers division of Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, alongside her colleagues, aspiring engineer Mary Jackson and her unofficial supervisor Dorothy Vaughan.
Following a successful Soviet satellite launch, pressure to send American astronauts into space increases. Supervisor Vivian Mitchell assigns Katherine to assist the Space Task Group of Al Harrison due to her skills in analytic geometry. She becomes the first African-American woman in the team—and in the building, which has no bathrooms for non-white people.
Katherine's new colleagues are initially dismissive and demeaning, especially head engineer Paul Stafford. Meanwhile, Dorothy's request to be officially promoted to supervisor is rejected by Mitchell. Mary is assigned to the space capsule heat shield team, and immediately identifies a flaw in the experimental space capsule's heat shields. With encouragement from the team lead, she submits an application for an official NASA engineer position and begins to pursue an engineering degree more assertively.
At a barbecue, Katherine meets National Guard officer Jim Johnson, and they are attracted to each other, but she is disappointed when he voices skepticism about women's mathematical abilities. He later apologizes, and they begin spending more time together.
Harrison invites his subordinates to solve a complex mathematical equation, and Katherine steps forward, leaving him impressed. The Mercury 7 astronauts visit Langley and astronaut John Glenn is cordial to the West Area Computers.
Over time, Katherine becomes better acquainted with her colleagues. Harrison becomes upset when she is not at her desk and she angrily explains how far she has to walk to use the colored people's bathroom in another building, a half-mile away. Harrison abolishes bathroom segregation, personally knocking down the Colored Bathroom sign. Despite Stafford's objections, Harrison allows Katherine to be included in their meetings, in which she creates an elaborate equation to guide the space capsule into a safe re-entry. Despite this, Katherine is forced to remove her name from all the reports, which are credited solely to Stafford. Meanwhile, Mary goes to court and convinces the judge to grant her permission to attend night classes in an all-white school to obtain her engineering degree.
Dorothy learns of the impending installation of an IBM 7090 electronic computer that could replace her co-workers. She visits the computer room to learn about it and successfully starts the machine. Later, she visits a public library, where the librarian scolds her for visiting the whites-only section, to borrow a book about FORTRAN. While congratulating Dorothy on her work, Mitchell assures her that she never treated her differently due to the color of her skin; Dorothy is unconvinced. After teaching herself FORTRAN and training her West Area co-workers, she is officially promoted to supervise the Programming Department and her co-workers are transferred there, too. Mitchell eventually addresses Dorothy as "Mrs. Vaughan," indicating her new-found respect.
As the final arrangements for John Glenn's launch are made, Katherine is informed she is no longer needed at Space Task Group and is being reassigned back to West Area Computers. As a wedding and farewell gift from her colleagues (Katherine is now engaged to Jim Johnson), Harrison buys her a pearl necklace, the only jewelry allowed under the dress code.
Prior to the launch, however, discrepancies arise in the IBM 7090 calculations for the capsule's landing coordinates, and Astronaut Glenn requests that Katherine be called in to check the calculations. Katherine quickly does so, only to have the door slammed in her face after delivering the results to the control room. However, Harrison brings her into the control room so they can relay the results to Glenn together.
After a successful launch and orbit, the space capsule has a warning light indicating a heat shield problem. Mission control decides to land it after three orbits instead of seven. Katherine understands the situation and concurs that they should leave the retro-rocket attached to heat shield for reentry to which Harrison agrees immediately. Their instructions prove correct and Friendship 7 successfully lands in the ocean.
Following the mission, the mathematicians are laid off and ultimately replaced by electronic computers. Katherine is reassigned to the Analysis and Computation Division, Dorothy continues to supervise the Programming Department, and Mary obtains her engineering degree and gains employment at NASA as an engineer.
An epilogue reveals that Katherine calculated the trajectories for the Apollo 11 and Space Shuttle missions.In 2015 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The following year a new 40,000-square-foot Computational Research Facility at the Langley Research Center was renamed the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility in her honor.
Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Goble Johnson, mathematician
Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan, mathematician and supervisor
Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson, who becomes an engineer
Kevin Costner as Al Harrison, director of the Space Task Group
Kirsten Dunst as Vivian Mitchell, supervisor
Jim Parsons as Paul Stafford, head engineer in STG
Glen Powell as John Glenn, astronaut
Mahershala Ali as Jim Johnson, military officer who romances and eventually marries Katherine
Karan Kendrick as Young Joylette Coleman, mother of Young Katherine Goble Johnson
Donna Biscoe as Joylette Coleman, Katherine's mother, who helps care for her children
Rhoda Griffis as White Librarian
Maria Howell as Ms. Summer
Aldis Hodge as Levi Jackson
Paige Nicollette as Eunice Smith
Gary Weeks as Reporter at Press Conference
Saniyya Sidney as Constance Johnson
Zani Jones Mbayise as Kathy Johnson
Kimberly Quinn as Ruth
Olek Krupa as Karl Zielinski, engineer who encourages Mary Jackson