“Hidden Figures” star Janelle Monae was one of the people who didn’t know about the three female mathematicians who helped catapult U.S. astronaut John Glenn into space in the 1960s — but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t going to get the story heard.
“I had no clue who Mary Jackson was, but I made it a personal responsibility to portray Miss Mary Jackson because I didn’t want any other girl, any other human being, any other American, to not know about this history,” Monae told TheWrap about her role in the film as Jackson, the first African-American female aerospace engineer.
In an episode of the “Close Up With TheWrap” video series shot at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., Monae sat down with NASA R & D Program Executive LaNetra C. Tate to discuss stereotypes of women, and specifically women of color.
“Mary Jackson … believed that everyone, no matter what your color was, what your gender was, you had a right to the American dream,” Monae said. “She wasn’t trying to be the first African-American female engineer. She just wanted to be an engineer.”
Tate revealed she never felt like an outcast at NASA because of everything her parents had “instilled in her.”
“I’m not better than anyone else, but I work just as hard,” she said. “My experience at NASA has been very rewarding. I absolutely love my job.”
Monae responded, “If everyone had that mentality of, ‘Genius has no color, brilliance has no race’… we just need those opportunities and it’s about a shared humanity.”
The actress stars in the film alongside Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer. Spencer plays Dorothy Vaughan, one of the so-called human “computers” employed by NASA in the early ’60s to do rapid-fire math to support the effort to launch a manned rocket into space, while Henson plays Katherine Johnson, a numbers prodigy who helped calculate key trajectories for Glenn’s orbit around Earth in 1962.
“When I got the script, I was reading a script I was so excited about because I said, ‘Finally, someone has crafted a script and created these characters that shows us as complete human beings, not celebrating our beauty but also celebrating our brilliance as African-American women, and women,'” Monae said. “This is not a fictitious story, this is in fact real. These women existed during the 1960s and they were directly responsible for getting our first American into space.”
“Hidden Figures” is now in limited release and will open nationwide on January 6, 2017.