BLACK HISTORY MONTH: The Best New Films to Watch this February

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Movies to see this Black History Month (photo collage via theguardian.com)

article by Rebecca Carroll via theguardian.com

Fences

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

Get Out

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

Hidden Figures

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.

I Am Not Your Negro is out on Friday

To read full article, go to: The best new releases to watch during Black History Month | Film | The Guardian

Taraji P. Henson and Pharrell Williams Offer Multiple Free Screenings Of ‘Hidden Figures’

Taraji P. Henson and Pharrell Williams (photo via essence.com)

article by Paula Rogo via essence.com

Taking a cue from Octavia Spencer, both Taraji P. Henson and Pharrell Williams have bought out screenings of Hidden Figures at movie theaters in Virginia, Georgia, Illinois, Texas and Washington D.C. on Sunday.  Spencer paid for a free screening of the critically-acclaimed film earlier this month, saying that her own mother would not have been able to afford to take her and her siblings.

Henson, who plays the lead role as NASA physicist and mathematician Katherine Johnson, was inspired to do the same in Houston, Chicago, Atlanta, and of course, her hometown of Washington D.C. On Instagram, she said she was moved by Spencer and “similar actions taken by so many of YOU across the country.” Anonymous donors have been buying out whole screenings.

To see full article, go to: Taraji and Pharrell Offer Multiple Free Screenings Of ‘Hidden Figures’ | Essence.com

Astronaut Jeanette Epps to be NASA’s 1st African-American Crew Member on International Space Station

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps (photo via mashable.com)

article by Miriam Kramer via mashable.com

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps is set to become the first African-American crewmember on the International Space Station when she flies to space next year, the space agency announced Wednesday.

Epps’ months-long trip should begin in 2018, and it will mark the first time she has traveled to orbit, following in the footsteps of the women who inspired her to become an astronaut.  “It was about 1980, I was nine years old. My brother came home and he looked at my grades and my twin sisters’ grades and he said, ‘You know, you guys can probably become aerospace engineers or even astronauts,'” Epps said in a NASA video interview.

“And this was at the time that Sally Ride [the first American woman to fly in space] and a group of women were selected to become astronauts — the first time in history. So, he made that comment and I said, ‘Wow, that would be so cool.'”   While other African-American astronauts have flown to the Space Station for brief stays during the outpost’s construction, Epps will be the first African-American crewmember to live and work on the station for an extended period of time.

Robert Curbeam, Stephanie Wilson, Joan Higginbotham, Al Drew, Leland Melvin and Robert Satcher, along with their space shuttle crewmates, helped to complete the space station during its first 11 years,” space historian Robert Pearlman, who runs the website collectSPACE.com, told Mashable.

Melvin actually encouraged Epps to apply to become an astronaut when the space agency put out a call for their 2009 class, Epps said. And that encouragement paid off. Epps was selected as one of 14 astronaut candidates in NASA’s 2009 class. NASA received 3,500 astronaut applications that year. Her astronaut selection wasn’t the first time she worked with the space agency, however. Epps was a NASA fellow while at the University of Maryland for graduate school in aerospace engineering and then worked in a lab at Ford Motor Company for more than two years, according to the space agency.

From there, Epps’ path to becoming an astronaut takes a decidedly atypical turn. Most astronauts come to the Astronaut Corps either through training in science or as a military officer, but after Ford, Epps spent more than seven years at the Central Intelligence Agency as a technical intelligence officer.”I did a lot of scientific stuff, but I also did a lot of operational stuff,” Epps said. “We worked in non-proliferation issues, which was great. It’s reverse engineering at its best.” Epps also volunteered to go to Iraq with the CIA for four months to help search for weapons of mass destruction.

To read full article, go to: NASA’s first African-American Space Station crewmember is your new role model

NASA Chief Charles Bolden Celebrates Influence of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson in Vanity Fair

katherine-johnson

Katherine Johnson, photographed at Fort Monroe, in Hampton, Virginia. (Photograph by Annie Leibovitz)

article by Charles Bolden via vanityfair.com

When I was growing up, in segregated South Carolina, African-American role models in national life were few and far between. Later, when my fellow flight students and I, in training at the Naval Air Station in Meridian, Mississippi, clustered around a small television watching the Apollo 11 moon landing, little did I know that one of the key figures responsible for its success was an unassuming black woman from West Virginia: Katherine Johnson.

Hidden Figures is both an upcoming book and an upcoming movie about her incredible life, and, as the title suggests, Katherine worked behind the scenes but with incredible impact. When Katherine began at NASA, she and her cohorts were known as “human computers,” and if you talk to her or read quotes from throughout her long career, you can see that precision, that humming mind, constantly at work. She is a human computer, indeed, but one with a quick wit, a quiet ambition, and a confidence in her talents that rose above her era and her surroundings.

“In math, you’re either right or you’re wrong,” she said. Her succinct words belie a deep curiosity about the world and dedication to her discipline, despite the prejudices of her time against both women and African-Americans. It was her duty to calculate orbital trajectories and flight times relative to the position of the moon—you know, simple things. In this day and age, when we increasingly rely on technology, it’s hard to believe that John Glenn himself tasked Katherine to double-check the results of the computer calculations before his historic orbital flight, the first by an American. The numbers of the human computer and the machine matched.

To read full article, go to: Katherine Johnson, the NASA Mathematician Who Advanced Human Rights with a Slide Rule and Pencil | Vanity Fair

Official Trailer for “Hidden Figures” Starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae Debuts During Olympics

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (follow @lakinhutcherson)

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.

The film, based on the upcoming book by Margot Lee Shetterly, is the true story of the black female mathematicians who worked at NASA in the 1960s and helped put John Glenn into orbit.  To learn more about the movie and the history, click here.

FILM: Uncovering a Tale of Rocket Science, Race and the ’60s in “Hidden Figures”

Janelle Monae (i)Taraji P. Henson (m)and Octavia Spencer (r) and star in “Hidden Figures,” a largely untold story of African-American mathematicians in the space program. (photo via nytimes.com)

article by Cara Buckley via nytimes.com

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.

To read full article, go to: Uncovering a Tale of Rocket Science, Race and the ’60s

Pharrell Williams Joins Fox 2000’s “Hidden Figures” Starring Taraji P. Henson as Producer, Will Write Music

Pharrell Williams (photo via deadline.com)

Pharrell Williams (photo via deadline.com)

article by Dave McNary via Variety.com*

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!)