Octavia Spencer opened up about the historical significance of her next film “Hidden Figures,” and why the story that inspired it is so meaningful to her — and overdue to be told.
The Fox 2000 project stars Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae — and tells the true story of three female African-American mathematicians who served as the brains behind NASA’s Friendship 7 mission. Their calculations helped astronaut John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth in February 1962.
“I thought it was fiction. I thought, ‘Wow, this is a great story that needs to be told because we haven’t seen black women from that era portrayed in that way,’” Spencer said at a Produced By 2016 panel about diversity and gender parity in Hollywood.
“When I found out it was true, it hurt me to the core. That they were left out of the retelling of history and they made contributions to history. It’s not just black women, it’s also women. They had an entire department of women,” she said.
Spencer spoke on the panel with Paul Feig, Dr. Jo Handelsman, associate director for science at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, producer Lydia Dean Pilcher, “Black-ish” actress Yara Shahidi, director of media and diversity at USC Stacy Smith and global head of diversity at Dropbox, Judith Williams.
Handlesman agreed that the mathematicians’ accomplishments were overlooked for decades. “These women were at the backbone of the program, yet we never heard about them,” she added.
Spencer also spoke about her role as Johanna Reyes in “Allegiant” and the upcoming finale on the “Divergent” series, “Ascendant.”
“I will say that I love the fact that Veronica Roth wrote these books when she was 18, and in this young author’s mind, she not only included women as leaders because the majority of the factions are led by women, but the groups are all multi-faceted and diverse,” she said about the series’ author. “So her idea of the future was made up of many people from multicultural backgrounds.”