Moonlight topped off its amazing awards-season run by earning the Best Picture Oscar at the 89th Academy Awards. Moonlight director/writer/producer Barry Jenkins accepted the award at the end of the night after a shocking turn of events where La La Land was mistakenly called to stage to receive the Academy’s highest honor. Jenkins also won with co-writer Tarell Alvin McCraney for Best Adapted Screenplay, and Mahershala Ali became the first Muslim actor in Oscar history to win the Best Supporting Actor Award.
The star-studded evening also saw an energizing opening performance of “Can’t Stop The Feeling” by Original Song nominee Justin Timberlake, a medley of two songs from “La La Land” by its co-star John Legend (“City of Stars” went on to win the Original Song award) and a standing ovation for Best Feature Documentary presenter, Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree and NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, who was introduced by “Hidden Figures” stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae (and wheeled out on stage by current NASA astronaut Yvonne Cagle).
There were also Oscar presentations from Samuel L. Jackson, Halle Berry and Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, but one of the biggest highlights of the evening was the speech delivered by three-time nominee and Best Supporting Actress winner Viola Davis:
People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say, exhume those bodies, exhume those stories, the stories of the people who dreamed. I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life. So here’s to August Wilson, who exhumed and exalted the ordinary people.
Davis went on to thank her co-stars and Best Director/Best Actor nominee Denzel Washington, her family and her parents.
If you’ve ever seen or read an August Wilson play, you know that writing is how the late playwright processed the world around him – a magnificently black world filled with funk and nuance in which language plays a central role. For Wilson, though, learning how to work with that language as a writer didn’t happen overnight. “For the longest time I couldn’t make my characters talk,” Wilson told me several years ago before his death in 2005. “I thought in order to incorporate the black vernacular into literature, the language had to be changed or altered in some way to sound more clear … until I realized that it’s no less romantic and meaningful to say, ‘It’s cold outside.’” As a play, Wilson’s Fences, which tells the story of a working-class black man – who was denied a baseball career in the major leagues – trying to raise his family in mid-century Pittsburgh, gives us that blunt romance and powerful meaning. As a movie, it gives us Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. Enough said.
Fences is on nationwide release now
I don’t go in for horror films at all – not even horror film parodies – but I also can’t think of a brighter, more innovative voice in film right now than Jordan Peele, one half of the masterful sketch comedy series Key and Peele, which he co-created with Keegan-Michael Key. And while the potentially great Keanu, co-written by Peele and Alex Rubin, was a disappointing failure, Get Out, which Peele both wrote and directed, looks legitimately genius. The premise is a pretty straightforward Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner setup – rich white girlfriend brings her smart, learned black boyfriend upstate for a weekend to meet the parents – what could go wrong? It’ll be awkward, parents will remark more than once on how articulate the black boyfriend is, lecture them both on how hard it will be to maintain an interracial relationship in this day and age, and then finally concede that love is all that matters. Or will it?
Get Out will be in theaters February 24
In America, when it comes to the mainstream celebration of black historical figures, we primarily see the spotlight shined on our athletes, entertainers and a handful of activists who generally get depoliticized posthumously. Seldom do we hear about engineers, innovators and mathematicians, much less our black women in those positions. It’s thrilling and really quite long overdue for a film like Hidden Figures, which tells the story of “colored computers” Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who worked at NASA in the early 1960s and played a vital role in getting John Glenn and the Friendship 7 into space. As Katherine Johnson, Taraji P. Henson is on career-best form – pushing her glasses up on her nose, hustling to the coloreds bathroom carrying a stack of data research, doing mathematical equations on a chalkboard – creating a truly revelatory performance. Octavia Spencer as Dorothy and Janelle Monáe as Mary are icing on the cake. An added bonus comes in the form of Pharrell Williams, who is a producer on the film and wrote original songs for the soundtrack that give the movie a beautiful sense of joy.
Hidden Figures is in nationwide release now
I Am Not Your Negro
The thing about James Baldwin, beyond his utter brilliance and undeniable prescience as a writer and public intellectual, is that he was like the blackest man who ever lived. And he wore it like a badge of honor. In the newly Oscar-nominated documentary I Am Not Your Negro, Haitian-born film-maker Raoul Peck mines Baldwin’s unpublished writing about the assassinations of Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to create an intellectual and visual mosaic that somehow captures Baldwin’s own very personal and stubborn sense of blackness. It hits hard, and the film will make you long for the leadership and integrity of Evers, King and Malcolm in these increasingly divisive times. But it will also, if only temporarily, let you sit in the glory that is James Baldwin’s company.
Essence, the nation’s preeminent brand for African-American women, will commemorate the 10th anniversary of its “Black Women in Hollywood Awards” by shifting from a daytime luncheon to an evening gala for the first time.
The Awards & Gala will honor Hollywood’s “Next Generation”— young women who are excelling and elevating their crafts—including actress/musician Janelle Monáe (Breakthrough Award); groundbreaking “Insecure” actress/writer/producer Issa Rae (Vanguard Award); “How To Get Away With Murder” Yale-educated actress Aja Naomi King (Lincoln Shining Star Award); and “Black-ish” actress Yara Shahidi (Generation Next).
Actress/Producer Gabrielle Union will serve as the program’s host and the red carpet ceremony will be held at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills, CA, on Thursday, February 23, 2017.
“For the past decade, the “Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards” have paid homage to our modern image-makers—both in front of the camera and behind the scenes,” said Essence Editor-in-Chief Vanessa K. De Luca. “This past year has been an exceptional one for diversity in film and television, and with the incredible contributions of Janelle, Issa, Aja and Yara, it is fitting that our 10th anniversary will honor the future of Hollywood and its continued steps on the path to inclusion.”
Also for the first time, internationally acclaimed visual artist and filmmaker Mickalene Thomas will be infusing the event with her elaborate imagery celebrating the power of female beauty as a facet of women’s empowerment.
To check out highlights and behind-the-scenes access to the “Essence Black Women in Hollywood Awards & Gala,” go to Essence.com, Facebook, Twitter or Instagram @essence #BlackWomeninHollywood.
Fox 2000 and Chernin Entertainment’s “Hidden Figures” dominated the domestic box office, topping charts for the second straight weekend after earning $26 million. The film’s message of empowerment and triumph over prejudice was amplified by the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.
“This continues to be a movie for everyone,” said Chris Aronson, Fox’s head of domestic distribution. “It’s not just entertaining. It’s life affirming. It celebrates the triumph of the human spirit and that’s so important in these times.”
“Hidden Figures” is a latecomer to the awards season race, but the film, which stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae as African-American scientists and mathematicians in the early days of the space program, ranks as one of the most successful dramas of 2016. So far, it has earned $60.4 million. That commercial success could translate into Oscar attention when Academy Award nominations are announced next week.
It will likely face fierce competition from “La La Land,” a critically beloved movie musical with Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling. Fresh off its sweep of the Golden Globe awards, “La La Land” sang and danced its way to $17.5 million over the holiday period, good enough for a third place finish. That brings the Lionsgate release’s domestic total to $77 million and more than $132 million globally.
With the always present caveat that “rank doesn’t matter,” it turns out that Hidden Figures was the top movie of the weekend, not Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As you probably know, the weekend box office that everyone reports on Sunday is comprised of estimates and when the rankings are close the order can sometimes shift when the final numbers drop. So yeah, Hidden Figures earned a terrific $22.8 million, about $1m more than estimated, which is a sign that the film is building on its buzz and word-of-mouth.
Meanwhile, Rogue One had to settle for a $22m fourth weekend, bringing its domestic total to $477.3m. The story though, isn’t necessarily that Hidden Figures, which stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons and Kevin Costner, bested the fourth weekend of Star Wars (or the third weekend of Sing) in its wide release debut. No, it’s that Hidden Figures, a historical drama about female African-American NASA mathematicians whose skills were essential to putting Americans into space, earned $22.8 million on its opening weekend, bringing the domestic total for the $25m Fox 2000/Chermin release to $24.7m.
At the risk of stating the painfully obvious, the triumph of said Allison Schroeder/Ted Melfi-written studio programmer, based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book, is a huge win for the notion that movies about women, women of color no less, can be not just critically acclaimed and award-worthy but also multiplex-friendly box office hits. This shouldn’t be a surprise. We should know this by now. The Help earned $169 million domestic in 2011, more than X-Men: First Class ($146m), and earned about as much worldwide ($216m) as the 3D/$200m+ Green Lantern ($219m).
Back in 1995, Waiting to Exhale made about as much domestically ($67.4m) as Bad Boys, Outbreak and Heat. The entire Tyler Perry media empire is built on audiences (black women and otherwise) going to movie theaters to see mainstream melodramas about African-American women. Hell, we forget about it now, but Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple earned $94.1 million domestic in 1985 ($216m in 2017 dollars). That doesn’t mean every Baggage Claim is going to break out, but if you treat movies like Hidden Figures like an event, the audience will show up.
Heading into the weekend, a tight race was projected between “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” “Sing” and “Hidden Figures,” the latter of which showed a strong expansion judging by early estimates. Sure enough, Fox’s “Hidden Figures” earned $7.6 million at 2,471 locations to win Friday, on its way to an estimated $21 million for the weekend.
“Rogue One,” meanwhile tacked on an additional $6.1 million at 4,157 theaters, shooting to a potential $24 million this weekend. Illumination-Universal’s animated comedy “Sing” made $5.1 million on Friday from 3,955 theaters and should make about $23 million by the weekend’s end.
Taraji P. Henson stars in “Hidden Figures” as Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who, along with her colleagues Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), helped NASA advance in the Space Race. Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons also star. Fox 2000 Pictures, Chernin Entertainment, Levantine Films and TSG Entertainment produced the film distributed by Fox. The awards season contender also performed well in limited release with $2.9 million from 25 locations since Dec. 25.
Are you a real-life “hidden figure” on her way to changing the world? You could win a scholarship to help make your STEM dreams come true! PepsiCo and 21st Century Fox are partnering to find the next generation of girls and women who will lead the way in STEM. Sound like you? Enter the Search for Hidden Figures contest by Dec. 10!
Prizes are awards of $200,000 total in scholarships to 12 standout finalists. Winners will also receive exclusive opportunities and more from PepsiCo and Hidden Figures.
The trailer for “Hidden Figures”, the Fox 2000 drama starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer,Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons, directed by Theodore Melfi, with original music from Pharrell Williams, debuted last night on NBC during the women’s gymnastics individual event finals at the Rio Olympics. In case you missed it – watch it here and mark your calendars – the movie will go into wide release on January 13, 2017.
ATLANTA — Taraji P. Henson hates math, and Octavia Spencer has a paralyzing fear of calculus, but that didn’t stop either actress from playing two of the most important mathematicians the world hasn’t ever known.
Both women are starring in “Hidden Figures,” a forthcoming film that tells the astonishing true story of female African-American mathematicians who were invaluable to NASA’s space program in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s.
Ms. Henson plays Katherine Johnson, a math savant who calculated rocket trajectories for, among other spaceflights, the Apollo trips to the moon. Ms. Spencer plays her supervisor, Dorothy Vaughan, and the R&B star Janelle Monáe plays Mary Jackson, a trailblazing engineer who worked at the agency, too.
Slated for wide release in January, the film is based on the book of the same title, to be published this fall, by Margot Lee Shetterly. The author grew up knowing Ms. Johnson in Hampton, Va., but only recently learned about her outsize impact on America’s space race.
Pharrell Williams will produce Taraji P. Henson’s mathematics drama “Hidden Figures” and write original songs for the soundtrack.
Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and Ted Melfi are also producing, and Melfi is directing. Williams will oversee all musical elements for the motion picture and its soundtrack.
Henson stars along with Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as a trio of brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind the 1962 launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit — a key milestone in the space race against the Soviet Union to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
“After my producing partner Mimi Valdés and I heard about this project, we basically begged the producers and studio to allow us to participate,” Williams said. “This is an extraordinary story about black women with genius mathematical minds who contributed to American history. It takes place in Virginia, my home state, and at NASA, a place I’ve been obsessed with since childhood.”
Fox will release “Hidden Figures” on Jan. 13. Also starring are Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge and Kevin Costner. The screenplay is by Alison Schroeder, Melfi and Lori Lakin Hutcherson.
Williams has won 10 Grammy Awards. He’s also known for his musical contributions to the “Despicable Me” films as well as his judging stint on NBC’s “The Voice.”
*(GBN disclosure from Editor-in-Chief Lori Lakin Hutcherson: the above is an article in which I am mentioned, as I am primarily a writer in television and film, and was fortunate enough to work on “Hidden Figures.” It may be a conflict of interest to have published this, but so be it – it’s an awesome film and Good Black News regardless!)