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

“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 Mone 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 “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 Mone), 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.”

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