Taraji P. Henson is set to star in Hidden Figures, a movie based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race.
Henson, who just won a Golden Globe for best actress for her role as Cookie on Empire, will play math wiz Katherine Johnson in a story about how Johnson and her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, helped launch astronaut John Glenn into space and bring him home safely.
According to oral history archived by the National Visionary Leadership Project:
“At first she worked in a pool of women performing math calculations. Katherine has referred to the women in the pool as virtual ‘computers who wore skirts.’ Their main job was to read the data from the black boxes of planes and carry out other precise mathematical tasks. Then one day, Katherine (and a colleague) were temporarily assigned to help the all-male flight research team. Katherine’s knowledge of analytic geometry helped make quick allies of male bosses and colleagues to the extent that,’they forgot to return me to the pool.’ While the racial and gender barriers were always there, Katherine says she ignored them. Katherine was assertive, asking to be included in editorial meetings (where no women had gone before.) She simply told people she had done the work and that she belonged.”
Johnson, who is 97 and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.