For Pharrell Williams, it was a “no-brainer” to sign on as a producer and songwriter for “Hidden Figures,” a film about three female NASA mathematicians who helped launch John Glenn into space.
“I was drawn to this because when you consider the fact that there are plenty of African-American women who are interested in science, interested in engineering, but they are not often seen on a television screen or on a big silver screen, for me, it was like, ‘Oh, it’s a no-brainer,'” Williams told TheWrap.
The music star wrote the songs “Runnin'” and “I See a Victory” for the film, which stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae. 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., Williams talked about gender bias and a certain scene in the film that really stuck with him.
“Three African-American female protagonists who are not divorcees and consoling each other or going away for a girl’s weekend, they were engineers, they were mathematicians, they were technologically advanced — that just made it all the more sweeter,” he said.
“There’s this scene where [Henson’s character] has got to use the bathroom. The segregated bathroom isn’t side by side, it isn’t down the hall, or on the other side of the building… it’s on the other side of the campus,” he said. “As a woman, an African-American woman, you had to run to the other side of that campus which was about a 30-minute to 45-minute round trip, rain or shine. The gravity was very heavy on African-Americans, and it was twice as heavy for African-American females.”
When writing the lyrics to “Runnin,'” he said he thought about what an African-American woman could be thinking during the early 1960s when the film was set.
“Gender bias is so real but yet so seemingly invisible so I’m thinking to myself, ‘What must this African-American woman — what was she thinking?'” he said.
But the deeper message of the film, where these three woman overcame multiple obstacles to become integral parts of the NASA space program, really struck a chord with Williams.
“There are going to be walls of adversity, no matter who you are,” he said. “If you keep your goals, and you look hard enough, you can see through these adversities like these women did and see that there is a victory.”
“Hidden Figures” is now in limited release and will open nationwide on January 6, 2017.
Watch the video above.