2017 DiversityInc Top 50 Announcement Event

‘Hidden Figures’ No. 1 at Box Office, Surpasses Expectations

Much like a lesson of the film, never underestimate the value of African American talent.

“Hidden Figures” came in almost $2 million above expectations for its wide-release debut. The film has taken the top spot at the box office, slightly edging out “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”

From left to right: Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson; Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson; and Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan.

“Hidden Figures” sold $22.8 million in ticket sales at North American theaters this past weekend. The Walt Disney Company’s (No. 38 on the DiversityInc 2016 Top 50 Companies for Diversity list) “Rogue One” earned $22.1 million in its fourth weekend, according to Friday-to-Sunday box office revenue tallies released on Monday.

The film is based on the true story of a team of African American women, Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), who provided NASA with important mathematical data at the start of the Cold War. The women computed trajectories needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions, including John Glenn’s famous 1962 voyage.

“Hidden Figures” had a limited release on Christmas Day but expanded by more than 2,400 locations on Friday. It received an A-plus grade from ticket buyers in CinemaScore exit polls. Forty-three percent of viewers were white, 37 percent were Black and 13 percent were Latino. Women made up 64 percent of the audience, while 56 percent of all ticket buyers were age 35 or older, according to The Hollywood Reporter. To date, the film has earned a total of $24.7 million against a $25 million budget.

Civil rights attorney Steve Phillips, keynote speaker at DiversityInc’s conference in September and author of the New York Times bestselling book “Brown Is the New White,” used the entertainment industry as an example of how highly talented people of color are often “hiding in plain sight” in the workplace.

He said the now widely famous Lee Daniels, co-creator of Fox’s “Empire,” and Taraji P. Henson, a star of the show, “were there all along, hiding in plain sight waiting to be believed in, invested in, promoted and empowered.”

From a Book Proposal to the Big Screen

Margot Lee Shetterly

The No. 1 film was inspired by the nonfiction book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” written by Margot Lee Shetterly. The Sloan Foundation awarded Shetterly a writing grant to complete the book.

FOX 2000 optioned the rights to the book based on her 55-page proposal. So, Shetterly was writing her book as screenwriters Theodore Melfi and Allison Schroeder wrote the screenplay at the same time. Melfi is also the director of the film. Pharrell Williams is a producer of “Hidden Figures” and a composer of its score.

During a discussion session in August at the joint convention of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in Washington, D.C., Shetterly said it was essential to support the film during opening weekend.

Margot Lee Shetterly and Aldis Hodge (right) at the NABJ/NAHJ conference in August in Washington, D.C. / SHERYL ESTRADA

“Go to the movie theaters when it first comes out,” Shetterly told journalists.

She said it would make a powerful statement if people were to support the film and it became successful.

Actor Aldis Hodge, who plays Levi Jackson in the film, said “Hidden Figures” is about American triumph.

“Why do people go to those superhero films?” Hodge said. “We see the hero being that stand out guy or that girl who’s saving the world. This is nothing different.

“At the root of its core, this is about American triumph. The entire country benefited and still benefits from this accomplishment. So, this is a hero story for the country.”

View the trailer for “Hidden Figures”:

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  • If you want to be inspired by the story of some true unknown American heroes, this is the movie for you.

    I will go see it again, just to bring others along.

    Reply
  • This is a story that definitely needed to be told. I didn’t learn about these women until I was an adult and someone told me about them. The sad thing is I should have read about these upstanding math geniuses when I was in elementary or high school. That having been said, I am delighted that their story is finally being told, and millions of people will be able to hear about their contributions to space exploration. The story resonates given the current environment since the presidential race, and we certainly need something positive for the nation to share.

    Reply
  • I wish I had been taught about these mathematical dynamos earlier in my lifetime. But – they will motivate and inspire an entire generation of young women for ages to come….

    Reply
  • I took my wife to see this on her birthday, and she and I loved this movie. But there’s a part of this story in particular that motivates you to the core, and that’s how they faced extreme adversity, defied the odds, and maintained their grace and dignity! I’m proud of what they accomplished, and I salute them with pride and honor!

    Reply
  • Can’t wait to see the movie. More beautiful Black Women Heros for mankind. Plethora of more to be publicly recognized soon.

    Reply
  • For years women have been encouraged to stay away from STEM type education and jobs. This movie should be shown in grade schools across the nation and world.

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