Historic biopics are always a big deal for Hollywood, and few upcoming examples have drawn more focus than Fox’s Hidden Figures. The real-life historical drama revolves around a group of African-American female mathematicians whose contributions to the NASA space program of the 1960s – though not widely recognized at the time – were crucial to the successful launch of Astronaut John Glenn into orbit.
Directed by Theodore Melfi, Hidden Figures stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae as a trio of mathematics experts who are brought in to help NASA crunch the elaborate data needed to project the successful orbital launch, a task that has been accelerated by the Cold War “space race” of the time. The film also features Kevin Costner as the Mission Supervisor who oversees the planning phase and helps to manage a workplace that isn’t necessarily ready to recognize the abilities of the three leads. The film has been one of early 2017’s more anticipated dramas since it was first announced.
But now, it’s become one of 2016’s instead. Variety is reporting Hidden Figures will have a limited Christmas release in order to qualify for this year’s Academy Awards voting. The film will then open wide on January 6th, 2017. Allison Schroeder wrote the Hidden Figures screenplay along with Melfi, based on an upcoming non-fiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly titled Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. The book aims to place Henson, Spencer and Monae’s characters (Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn) in their proper place as prominent heroines of the American space program.
The film’s release comes at a time when the historic oversight of Black filmmakers and actors by the Academy Awards has been the subject of serious industry-wide discussion, leading to an overhaul of the organization earlier this year. It has also been tipped as an important story for the current drive to recognize the overlooked contributions of women to science, technology and mathematics (or “STEM” fields) – despite fields such as programming having at one point been thought of “women’s work” within certain circles in the early 20th century.
Donna Gigliotti, Peter Chernin, Jenno Topping and Melfi share producing credits on the film, along with musician Pharrell Williams (who will also contribute to the soundtrack). An early qualifying run is a typical strategy for studios who believe they have produced an Oscar-worthy film but wish to release it in the late-Winter/early-Spring schedule. Whether or not this will lead to nominations for Hidden Figures remains to be seen, though the film has already attracted major critical and industry buzz.
Hidden Figures arrives in select theaters on December 25, 2016 and opens wide on January 6, 2017.