INSTITUTE, W.Va. (AP) — Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician whose calculations helped astronauts return to Earth, is being honored at her alma mater West Virginia State University with a bronze statue and a scholarship in her name. West Virginia State says a dedication ceremony is planned for Aug. 25, the day before Johnson’s 100th birthday.
Long before the digital era, Johnson worked as a human “computer” at the agency that became NASA, working in relative obscurity as an African-American woman. Her contributions were later recognized in the “Hidden Figures” movie, with actress Taraji P. Henson playing her role.
West Virginia State hopes to endow the scholarship at $100,000, awarding money to students majoring in science, technology, engineering and math, targeting people who are underrepresented in those fields.
Taraji P. Henson has been tapped to host BET’s 2017 Black Girls Rock Awards honoring “Insecure” creator, writer and star Issa Rae, “Black-ish” star Yara Shahidi and others. The ceremony will take place on Aug. 5 at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Rae is set to receive the Star Power Award while actress/activist Shahidi will take home the Young Gifted and Black honor.
Other honorees include singer Roberta Flack (Living Legend Award); financier Suzanne Shank (Shot Caller Award); and community organizers Derrica Wilson and Natalie Wilson of The Black & Missing Foundation (Community Change Agent Award).
The 2017 Black Girls Rock Awards will air on BET on Aug. 20.
Because ofHidden Figures, the film about a group of African-American women who contributed to NASA’s space program in the 1960s, are hidden no more. To continue to honor the Women of NASA’s legacy and inspire other young women, Lego is launching a new toy set of mini-figures.
The collection, which was brought to life by Maia Weinstock, will include NASA trajectory expert Katherine Johnson, whom Taraji P. Henson played in the film, as well as MIT computer scientist Margaret Hamilton, Fortune reports. The mini-figures will also include Mae Jemison, first African American woman in space; Sally Ride, first American woman in space, and physicist Nancy Grace Roman. In addition to its many characters, the set will include mini versions of computer programming machines, and the historic Hubble Space telescope.
“We’re really excited to be able to introduce Maia’s Women of NASA set for its inspirational value as well as build and play experience,” a Lego representative said in anofficial statement. The toy company’s goal is that the new figure will inspire girls to pursue careers in STEM, technology, and engineering.
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.
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.
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.